It feels vital. It feels alive. And in a peculiar era of humanity, that seems to embrace flagrant sexuality at the same time that it’s denouncing it, it’s dirty, funny, sexy, and often borders on greatness. And in the hands of Lars von Trier, it will certainly provoke, aggravate, titillate and disgust in equal measure for select yet daring audiences. By year’s end, I’ll have to decide if I want to count “Nymph()maniac” as two films, or one(as the director originally intended), whilst also hoping that by then I get to experience the full uncut version of this possible masterwork. Even after I watch Vol. 2(expect that review sometime next week), I’ll crave what I’ve read is an even longer combined version—that runs close to 5 hours. Lars is a gifted artist and a provocateur. Yeah, I’m a fan. I consider 2011’s “Melancholia” his absolute masterpiece, and 2003’s “Dogville” isn’t all that far behind it. Throw in 1991’s “Europa”(released as “Zentropa” in the U.S.), 1996’s “Breaking the Waves”, 2000’s “Dancer in the Dark”, and the 2003 documentary “The Five Obstructions”, and you’ll recognize the obviousness impressiveness of von Trier’s resume. And I haven’t even included certain major works like “Antichrist”(which I haven’t watched yet, because with all the reports of its disturbing nature and grotesquery, quite frankly—I’m afraid of it). Lars still has lots to say about human nature, and I’m as ready as ever to give him a listen.
When “Nymph()maniac” opens, we are quickly introduced to a bruised and battered Joe(frequent von Trier muse of late, the beguiling Charlotte Gainsbourg), as she lies in an alley until found and assisted by the kindly Seligman(Lars staple, Stellan Skarsgard). Joe immediately makes clear that she’ll vanish if he calls the police, so he agrees, and proceeds to help her to his home where he can let her rest and recover. And it’s while lying in Seligman’s bed, as he sits on a chair by her side, that Joe chronicles for him her life story, along with the admission that she is an unabashed nymphomaniac. Seligman, for his part, listens attentively, but also interrupts her regularly to parallel her story with the art of fly-fishing—for which he has an unmitigated passion. It’s here that the story breaks down into five chapters, as we meet the young Joe(striking newcomer, Stacy Martin), who leads us through a journey of her ribald sexuality and its intricate history. This includes a game with a young female friend, inside a moving train, where the girls attempt to top each other with the number of men they can copulate with while on board. We are also treated to a striking scene in which the wife of one of Joe’s middle-aged lovers confronts the couple(while toting her 3 children)in Joe’s apartment. “Mrs H.” is played by Uma Thurman…and she is extraordinary in her big scene. It’s disturbing and enthralling. We also are introduced to Joe’s father(Christian Slater!), and her first love Jerome(a well cast Shia LaBeouf).
Hey, if you are going to go all prude on me and declare the blatant sex scenes in “Nymph()maniac” unnecessary, don’t waste my time. This is, what this is. How often do we get a juicy, NC-17 adult-oriented film, about a young girls’ burgeoning sexuality from such a major filmmaker. Maybe the naysayers should be asking themselves what they are so afraid of. Is the sex “real” in this work? I don’t know, and I don’t really care(I’ve heard both answers, so I’m not really sure). It certainly looks real. But I’m a big boy, I can handle it. C’mon, we’re adults. We’ve all either seen and/or done some of this stuff, so what’s the big deal? I’m really dying to know what happens to Joe in Vol. 2, so I know writer/director von Trier has done his job. Plus, you’ll also get to experience just how funny “Nymph()maniac” is, against all odds. I mean, some of that fly-fishing banter from Skarsgard is priceless and hysterical. And Gainsbourg is an extremely interesting performer, and I loved what she did he in her limited appearances. I’m hoping that in the next half, her role includes much more than mostly just narrating the piece. Yes, I’m on board with the startling “Nymph()maniac”. I consider it the cinematic event of the season, and, if you’re bold enough, you may find yourself agreeing with me. Grade: A-