Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Lars Von Trier, and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, James Northcote, Jens Albinus, Jesper Christensen, Hugo Speer, Saskia Reeves, and Nicolas Bro.
Contrary to expectations, Nymphomaniac: Part 1 is not Lars Von Trier at his most provocative, unbearable or any other adjectives that would suit his films. Make no mistake, the film is careless, straightforward and its drama work as powerfully as a punch to the stomach, but you shouldn’t start the film with the assumption that you will see something endlessly gruesome or cynical. This is a film as much about the physical act as it is about love, the feeling. This is how Nymphomaniac’s first half earns its stripes as a movie you can and should watch: something that few other Lars Von Trier films can convince you of easily.
The cinematography is incredible. The first several minutes of Nymphomaniac are completely dialogue free and all you see on-screen is dirty corners of a wet rain-soaked street. Through Lars Von Trier’s vision however this otherwise ugly image becomes a true cinematic miracle, a symphony of sound and picture that you can watch forever as if you are gazing in cracking fire in the night. The very same visual look follows when we actually move into the story. We witness a lot of explicit material and the fact that it is shot so beautifully shot makes it all the more provoking and imposing, even if it is in Lars Von Trier’s typical slightly shaky camera which gives the whole thing a feeling of unparalled realism.
This magical silence is followed by hardcore rock music in the first of many moments in the film that will make you jump-inside or in your chair. There are some very memorable jump-scare moments in the film that are just a minor example of Lars Von Trier’s directing genius. What his mastery is demonstrated through the most dramatic scenes. The two most powerful scenes are when we move not in the territory of nymphomania but in the territory of love or heartbreak. The director squeezes out every bit of drama out of those two scenes involving the torment of a close relative and the embarrassing moment of getting caught in unfaithfulness. He knows the subject-matter inside out. He knows also the basic lesson for every nymphomaniac and everyone addicted to the act: No matter how much you get from it, it is not enough for you to live happily; it is not the answer and even worse, if you get too far you will bring permanent damage to yourself and others.
The performances are good; not the best you can see in a Lars von Trier film but still quite nice. One has to be an incredible actor in order to overshadow direction like this. Shia LaBeouf is good, Stacy Martin is solid and yet the most impressive one was from Christian Slater. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lars von Trier’s personal favorite does a wonderful job as the narrator. Even though all she does is to tell the story, drink tea and lie in the bed and nothing else, she makes you believe from that position for two hours that she is a nymphomaniac.
The writing is quite impressive as well. It makes surprisingly impressive parallels between fishing and the process of intimacy between men and woman preceding the act. Metaphors abound and the language is almost poetic at some point. The screen-play’s grandest achievement, apart from the fact that it shows that Lars von Trier has fully grasped the subject matter is the way he makes us feel what goes through the minds of those people who are addicted to pleasure and straightforwardly spoken-to the greatest pleasure of them all. The main protagonist’s addiction to the sunrise and the trees at first might seem pointless but a person who is addicted to such strong emotions and experiences is supposed to expect the best, go for the easiest, the most pleasurable of things. This is the extraordinary conflicted thing about nymphomaniacs, as the script suggests: in a way they are the greatest lovers of life but they are incapable of living it because they lack its greatest gift-love.
It is true, however, that the film also has scenes, which can’t even be described in a movie review for the public because they would require censorship. There are many moments like this. Personally, I had to cover the screen with my hand for at least thirty seconds at some point and believe me regardless of what websites you have visited on the Internet, you will want to do so as well when you watch the film and find out what the scene is about.
Either way, this is a film that displays Lars von Trier’s absolute mastery of the medium, his cinematic and philosophical wisdom and his complete disregard for rules-the things that have classified him as one of the best modern film-makers.
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