Friday, April 4, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Volume 1

NYMPHOMANIAC:  VOLUME 1        D                 
Denmark  Germany  France  Belgium  Great Britain  (Volume 1, 118 mi, Volume II, 123 mi)  2014  ‘Scope  d:  Lars von Trier     Official Site

Another epic flop from the man who makes outrageous claims to greatness, but remains the most pretentious filmmaker on the planet.  Even early in von Trier’s career (whose name is Lars Trier, as he himself added the "von" to emulate Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg), he considered himself the natural heir to Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer, using Dreyer’s unrealized screenplay for a made-for-TV version of Euripides’ Greek tragedy MEDEA (1988), a film that begins with a dedication to Dreyer, calling his film “an homage to the master.”  In more recent films, von Trier is giving thanks in the end credits to Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, in whose company he only appears dwarfed in comparison, but it doesn’t stop the swelled expectations from this director who becomes more and more irrelevant with each movie.  While this is originally conceived in two parts, much like Tarantino’s KILL BILL Pt’s 1 and 2 (2003-04), this reviewer has seen enough in the first section so there will be no interest in Part 2, expected to be released in several weeks, while in Denmark it was released as one five-hour film, which will likely make the DVD copies.  Every von Trier film now, whatever the subject matter, is all about the director himself, as he is such a megalomaniac that he can think of little else, as all roads lead back to him.  Charlotte Gainsbourg returns as von Trier’s muse for the third film in a row going back to ANTICHRIST (2009), perfectly suiting the director’s taste for self-abnegation, the driving force of nearly every von Trier film since BREAKING THE WAVES (1996).  You’d think the audience would grow sick of a director trotting out the exact same psychological state of mind in every movie, expressing a similar masochistic impulse to fall victim to obsessional impulses that only destroy humankind.  For his legions of followers, apparently, they can’t get enough, yet for others, it’s gotten ridiculous and we’ve had enough. 

Once more, von Trier can’t stop himself from eternally long monologues, which only grow in dreary yet descriptive detail of endless monotony, where sex is used not so much as a clinical subject matter, as shown here, but as a battering ram for human obsession.  Gainsbourg as Joe is found battered and beaten, lying unconscious on the street, where she is discovered by a curious academic named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who nurses her back to health, and in doing so, listens to her recount a life full of meaningless sexual exploits, which she uses to drive home the point that she’s a despicably contemptible and worthless human being.  While Seligman suggests there are countless examples in literature and the arts of equally contemptible human behavior, he provides a counterpoint to her theme, usually rambling on about one of his favorite personal obsessions, like fly-fishing, turning her wretched sexual exploits into a common sport, which he meticulously details in his own mind in order to help understand where she’s coming from, yet unlike fishermen, and despite her claims otherwise, Joe receives no pleasure in sex, as it only temporarily numbs the pain.  Seen in a Sex Addiction treatment program, Joe refuses to acknowledge the term sex addiction, preferring to believe in the lust of her female anatomy.  But lust suggests human desire, yet for Joe it’s little more than a necessary trip to the grocery store, just part of the typical routine of the day, where she has 9 or 10 sexual encounters daily.  Joe’s early life is played by Stacy Martin, where the audience may cringe at how she and her teenage girlfriend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) casually try to have sex with as many men as possible on a passenger train, where there’s obviously no feelings involved whatsoever, in fact, love is what they’re rebelling against, developing dogma-like rules for how to play the game, never repeating the same guy twice.  Over time, however, B falls for a guy she wants to keep seeing, which only infuriorates Joe, who finds that overly sentimental. 

Whether it is Stacy Martin or Charlotte Gainsbourg, both are tainted by emotional dysfunction, as they simply don’t feel anything or show any empathy towards others.  All they think about is themselves, all that matters is thinking about themselves, where like vampires who are endlessly dead, feeding their obsession is their only way of life.  It’s difficult for the audience to watch a series of continual affairs where the woman are continually naked, engage in loveless and passionless sex, shown with that same expressionless look on their face, where this has little to do with sex as we know it.  While something is going on in their heads, there’s little attraction other than these men qualify as sexually active males, where one is as good as another.  In some cases, we never even see their faces, as they simply become an anonymous stream of male appendages to use.  There is nothing remotely curious about any of this, because both Joe and Seligman are clueless about just how uninteresting they become after awhile, yet the audience is forced to endure more, becoming more of an exercise in marathon manipulation than anything else, where it has the feel of being bullied by a director who insists upon maintaining control long after the interest is gone.  While expressed in the utter detachment of a clinical exercise, the masochistic predictability of the stunted emotional growth factor becomes all too tedious after awhile, as from childhood to adulthood, Joe remains stuck in the same rut.  While this is not a film to recommend to anyone, it does have one redeeming scene involving Uma Thurman who brings a zest for life into the forefront, like a force of nature, providing what’s missing in the rest of the picture.  Her sequence is well-written and she astounds, as always, dominating the scene, literally overwhelming the presence of everyone else on the set, making them all seem so insignificant.  Her appearance is stunning for injecting well-needed humor into the movie, but she’s only in one scene, so the rest of the film is subject to the same endless parade of self indulgence, nonchalance, guilt, and self-loathing, where one soon grows tired of all the attention paid to this gloomy nonsense, the final in his trilogy about depression, following ANTICHRIST (2009) and Melancholia (2011), where it’s depressing to think this is what qualifies as a serious effort to understand depression. 

Much better films on the subject are Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956) and Vertigo (1958), Ingmar Bergman’s THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961), Frank Perry’s DAVID AND LISA (1962), John Cassavetes’ A Child Is Waiting (1963) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974),  Robert Rossen’s Lilith (1964), Roman Polanski’s REPULSION (1965), Werner Herzog’s AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972), Albert and David Maysles GREY GARDENS (1975), Robert Redford’a ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), Graeme Clifford’s FRANCES (1982), Jane Campion’s SWEETIE (1989) and AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990), Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s BROTHER’S KEEPER (1992), Lodge Kerrigan’s CLEAN, SHAVEN (1993) and KEANE (2004), Scott Hicks’ SHINE (1996), Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001), Michael Haneke’s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001), William Friedkin’s Bug (2006), Joachim Trier’s Reprise (2006), Sam Mendes’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008), Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter (2011), Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), Kenneth Lonnergan’s 2011 Top Ten Films of the Year #2 Margaret, and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

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