Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer
The Farewell To Middle-earth Issue
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe: Get 12 Issues For £25
Buy the perfect Christmas present this year
Farewell To Middle-earth
Full details of our Peter Jackson-edited issue
Empire Blogs
Words From The Wise

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac: First Look

Posted on Tuesday December 17, 2013, 12:33 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac: First Look

Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac arrives with a very different kind of controversy to the one we expected. It is indeed sexually explicit, as advertised, but is it the whole movie? The answer is yes and no, since the version screened to Empire in Copenhagen at the beginning of December began with a disclaimer noting that the film has been edited – with Von Trier's permission but without his involvement. So while it is the genuine, official release version, there is the small matter of a further 90 minutes, which will very much be the elephant in the room when it comes to reviewing it.

Funnily enough, though, Nymphomaniac not only feels like a complete film, it doesn't feel madly long in its four-hour format, which breaks down roughly into 1hr 50 for Volume One and 2hrs 10 for Volume Two. First things first, however: this is not an entry-level Von Trier film, and it helps to have a certain familiarity with his style and themes. In many ways, it is a greatest hits package, since it reprises certain moments from his entire back catalogue, usually with a wink (such as a moment that threatens to re-enact Antichrist's harrowing opening scene beat for beat).

As is often the case with Von Trier, the story has a narration, of sorts. It begins with Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), a lonely intellectual, who finds the battered body of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in a back alley on his way home from the shops, Rammstein's Führe Mich blasting out as he does so. Joe refuses his offer to call the police but agrees to go home with him to recover. Tucked up in bed, she tells him her story, explaining who she is in a series of chapters that take her from the age of two to the present day. Seligman listens intently, and their conversation is the spine of the movie, with Seligman adding often absurdly digressive comments to Joe's revelations.

Volume One is easily the lighter of the two halves, with Stacy Martin proving very game as the younger Joe. Unusually for Von Trier, the setting is a faux Britain, rather than a parallel USA, and it is in a bleak, provincial, industrial town that Young Joe meets Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), who will prove to be the one significant constant in her life. Given the subject matter, the tone in the first half is surprisingly comical at times; in sharp contrast to the wilful, knowing Joe, men are portrayed as saps and weaklings, notably in a wonderful scene in which one of her useless lovers, H (Hugo Speer), declares his love for her, bringing down the wrath of Mrs H (a superb Uma Thurman).

Throughout, Von Trier litters the story with asides and observations. If Lars likes it, it's in here, from fly fishing to Bach, ash trees and fibonacci numbers (don't worry, it's explained). If that sounds boring, the shaggy-dog nature of the story is deceptively compelling, with the characters frequently commenting on its implausibilities and weaknesses. In this way, Nymphomaniac is the purest Von Trier movie yet, in the sense that there is no Brechtian narrative to hide behind – the framing device might as well be Von Trier having a conversation with himself, the bookish, left-leaning polymath trying to come to terms with his reckless, anarchic and sometimes self-destructive alter ego.

Volume Two goes deeper and darker, featuring the more upsetting sequences in Joe's masochistic relationship with the violent, sadistic K (Jamie Bell). This is where the meat of the movie lies, since this is where Joe comes to terms with who she is and it is where we begin to realise that sex has been a red herring all along. Though most of the film was conceived before the controversy at Cannes last year, it's easy to see the scenes that were added subsequently, mostly in Joe's bitter attacks on political correctness. Indeed, replace the words “sex addict”, as Joe's character is labelled by the “respectable” outside world, with “attention seeker” and Joe's dilemma becomes clearer.

The sexual content is, as you might imagine, quite full on, with porn doubles seamlessly spliced in with the cast. The use of so many Hollywood actors – aside from LaBeouf and Thurman, there's Christian Slater as Joe's tree-loving dad – can be distracting, but mostly in the sense that one can only wonder how they were persuaded to sign up for such a bizarre project. But by the time the four-hour mark rolls round, that isn't what sticks in the mind. What does is the way Von Trier has corralled such a sprawling story into a linear narrative, while at the same time fashioning something quite profound and personal out of what seems at first sight to be pure provocation.

For Von Trier fans, the result is nirvana. This is a director who has never had “form”, just a series of periods, and this comes closest to the Golden Hearts trilogy of Breaking The Waves, The Idiots and Dancer In The Dark than anything since. There is, however, that extra 90 minutes floating about, which features more explicit sex and more controversial issues (including, allegedly, abortion). When and where that Director's Cut will appear we don't yet know, but as an appetiser, Nymphomaniac more than passes muster. Funny, mischievous and thoughtful, it is, beneath its “shocking” surface, a first-division work from one of the great maverick filmmakers of our time.  

Login or register to comment.

Currently No Comments

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (440)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

A chat with Jury chair Lee Daniels & the results of the 11th Dubai Film Festival
By Nev Pierce

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
By Nev Pierce

Movies And Medinas: Empire Reports From Marrakech International Film Festival
By Phil de Semlyen

Dubai Film Festival: The unlikely appeal of camel beauty pageants…
By Nev Pierce

Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
By Nev Pierce

The Dubai International Film Festival: Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe turn directors
By Nev Pierce

Night Visions 2014: The Harvest, Let Us Prey and Nuntius
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Marcos Ortiz and In Darkness We Fall
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Pablo Larcuen and Hooked Up
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Spanish Contingent
By Owen Williams


RECENT COMMENTS

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"No worries! I just try to describe things as I see them, and I often forget that, as Empire has grow"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your early reviews from the festivals, and of course, I'm not alway"  pythonlove
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Sundance Part Six: In The Loop
13 comments

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview
9 comments

Basterds Blog
9 comments

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009
9 comments

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!
8 comments

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!
7 comments

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!
7 comments

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
7 comments

The Wrestler
6 comments

Uncle Boonmee: An Explanation
6 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (298)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS

SAVE UP TO 69% GET 12 ISSUES FOR ONLY £25
Get the best seat in the house by subscribing to the world's biggest movie magazine today. Save up to 69% and every month you'll get exclusive subscriber-only covers, access to the biggest stars and the best news, reviews and behind-the-scenes reports straight from the set. Click here to find the perfect offer for you


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Watch: Night At The Museum's Cast Share Their Favourite Robin Williams Performance
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Ben Kingsley pay tribute to the actor

Watch: Jack O'Connell And Luke Treadaway Talk Unbroken
On POWs, panto and how to name your bomber

Review Of 2014: The 15 Best Cameos Of The Year
Our favourite one-scene movie-stealers

8 Things You Can Learn From The BFI's Star Wars Exhibition
The original crawl, a 'grotesque' villain and a very different princess

Review Of The Year: 40 Worst Posters Of 2014
One-sheets that you'd rather not have on your wall

Hobbit Q&As: Ian McKellen On Finally Saying Goodbye And Farewell To Gandalf The Grey
Read our exclusive Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies interviews

Review Of 2014: The Best TV Moments Of The Year
We celebrate the small screen's biggest scenes

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)