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Peter T Chattaway

Nymphomaniac

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Nymphomaniac (the first half, at least) had a surprise premiere at Sundance.

 

 

But as the invited filed into the Egyptian last night, an “18 and older” sign out front teased what many had already inferred: Lars Von Trier, that magnet of cinematic controversy, had come to Park City in spirit—though certainly not in body, given his fear of flying—by way of an advance screening of his latest lightning rod, Nymphomaniac. The catch, and it was a big one, was that U.S. distributor Magnolia had brought only part one of two. And unlike, say, Kill Bill, the first portion of this auteur opus in no way functions as a single, standalone movie. I walked out acutely aware that I had seen only half a film

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Having just seen ANTICHRIST, I'm expecting this to be the sequel.

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Shia LaBeouf, as well as wearing a paper bag on his head for the Berlin premiere, stormed out of the press conference. Either this is all another part of the film's elaborate marketing scheme, or Shia and Lars are secretly blood brothers steeped in controversy.

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Hmm, probably. I suppose I've just started interpreting everything he does with added dramatic flair!

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LARB: "Camp Von Trier":

 

[Von Trier is] not only hoping to impose on us “malignant” fictions whose power we cannot deny. He’s camping them to suggest, precisely, that we shouldn’t let them “slide down the gullet whole.” This could, I suppose, be read as a conservative move, whereby retrograde mythologies are preserved under the sign of irony. But a more generous reading might find Trier resuscitating, with all requisite skepticism, the power of “conventional fictions” in order to find out how they work. The result is films whose dominant texture is one of impassioned ambivalence about their own force, an ambivalence that becomes part of their force. 

 

[snip]

 

In Nymphomaniac, Trier’s irony finds a new formal mode: the movie has the sarcastic habit of visually illustrating its characters’ figures of speech. When Seligman compares Joe’s hunt for men to a fly-fisher’s for bass (“There’s a very clear parallel to fishing in a stream”), we get beautiful shots of rivers and fishing. When Joe compares a lover to a cat, Trier cuts to a hilarious shot of a big fat tabby against a blue background, like a cat-lover’s screensaver. Joe modifies her description (“But he was more than a cat — he was like some kind of jaguar, or leopard”), and Trier gives us a leopard basking in the sun. Like a lot of Trier, this is both funny and dumb. It’s bad manners for a filmmaker as formally accomplished as Trier to resort to these preposterous illustrations. Lars von Trier’s manners are not good. 

 

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Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ Isn’t Porn. It’s a Defense of Jewish Theology
 



Ignore all of that grinding of genitalia; the brilliant film is really an elaborate and hilarious response to St. Paul

 

You may have heard that Nymphomaniac, the new movie by Lars von Trier, is pornographic. You may know that the sexual acts depicted on screen are not simulated and that, over the course of four hours, the film features the sort of array of engaged genitalia you’d usually find only on the Internet’s more shadowy corners. All of that is true, even if the sex was performed by body doubles. None of it is relevant. Nymphomaniac may be many other things, but it is also a profoundly theological work of art and one of the most passionate apologias of Judaism ever attempted.
 
Signs that something more than smut is at stake arrive early and eerily: A man (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying in a darkened alley, badly beaten. She refuses medical attention; he takes her home and serves her tea. She confides in him that she’s a nymphomaniac and a horrible person, he urges her to tell her story, setting off the series of flashbacks that make up the lion’s share of the film. But before his convalescing guest sinks into her tale of depravity, the soft-spoken host tells us a little about himself. His name is Seligman, which, he says, means “happy man.” He is Jewish. His family is anti-Zionist, which is not the same, he explains, as being anti-Semitic. He loves rugelach, and eats them with a cake fork. Gainsbourg’s character, Joe, replies that eating rugelach with a cake fork is unmanly. Out of this preposterous premise a conversation erupts, and it does not die down until the film’s shocking end. We’ve witnessed it before: It is, with only very few stretches of the imagination, the conversation between Judaism and Christianity, and lest you think that von Trier is making some kind of essentialist argument here, he casts the quintessentially non-Semitic Skarsgård as the Jew and Serge Gainsbourg’s daughter as the Christian.
 
Or, more accurately, the Christ: Audaciously, perversely, blasphemously, Joe is Christ inverted.


We have a choice. We can choose, like Joe, to be defiant and attempt to sever all that makes us human. Or we can choose, like Seligman, to embrace that age-old rabbinic wisdom that tells us that everything is foretold and yet permission is granted: permission to interpret the divine plan any way we choose, permission to believe in it or not, permission to claim space for ourselves even in the looming shadow of the Lord. That’s Seligman, alright. “The concept of religion is interesting,” he says later on in the film, “like the concept of sex. But you won’t find me on my knees with regards to either.”

We can hear von Trier’s amen to that with every frame of Nymphomaniac. It took him a while to come to the realization. He had tried exploring the depredations of love, in Breaking the Waves and other movies. And he had certainly contemplated the law, directing a film, The Five Obstructions, based on nothing but a series of strict cinematic edicts posed to a fellow filmmaker. He finally got it right. Forget its obsessions with the flesh—Nymphomaniac is a godly film.

 

Edited by Overstreet

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I am always torn about LvT but his films/productions are often the ones that leave a lasting impression-for better or worse. His topics, or the way he investigates them, might not be appealing even in a "gapers delay" sort of way but they sure do make an impact. Like several people here, a few of his films will always show up in a top "something or other list" including an "all time fav." I really liked Melancholia so I was surprise to see several here who didn't, especially Stef (I guess I need to search out that thread). Lvt makes me think. He triggers feelings of discomfort to the teetering point of walking out or having an epiphany, either way it is always poignant. I probably won't wrestle with seeing this one too much as I don't appreciate such visually graphic and detailed nuances, I am not always sure they are necessary even in more modest films. However, I also think there is a lot to be said for broaching a subject that exists in life but is too taboo or secretive that we ignore it. There is a side of life, even our own, that isn't beautiful or uplifting and may never resolve. It is where the hurt overwhelms the soul that change can occur and love can abound.

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34 posts and...has anyone actually watched this?

I confess I'm not the biggest LvT fan, but....

 

I dunno. In what seems to me to be a desperate desire to be serious and not titillating, the film is hampered by its lack of having anything to really say about its subject matter. Is this supposed to be a confession, a sympathetic psychological profile, a plea for understanding? 

 

The childhood scenes and Seligman's constant fishing/historical intellectualizing suggests that sexual behavior is evolutionarily ingrained ("I'm ashamed of what I became, but it was beyond my control.")  Whether that is true or not, I'll leave to others to discuss. 

 

What I will say is that sociological treatises rarely make good films, and this one demands--and gets--zero emotional investment. It is almost as though LvT assumed the subject matter was so volatile and shocking that simply having people talk about it would be engrossing. But as these characters seemed unlike real people to me, I didn't care much what happened to them, even Joe, beyond generic human sympathy that suffering is bad and painful and one should strive not to be reflexively intolerant or hateful towards that which one does not understand. I'm *not* saying that there are no real nymphomaniacs, I am sure there are, but I had zero sense of Joe as a person. She was defined entirely by her pathology. I don't know that characterization has ever been a LvT strong suit; he seems more interested in situations than people. But I do feel as though I pick up *something* about the characters in Breaking the Waves and Melancholia along the way. Nymphomaniac was closer to Dogville or Melancholia or Antichrist for me. Ideas aplenty but nary an actual human being to draw me into the story and make me care. 

 

P.S. I probably would have given the film a pass, being LvT, until it used the waltz music from Eyes Wide Shut. Yeah, Lars, I've seen that movie, too. And I guess the one thing your movie was really good at was reminding me of how good I thought Stanley's was.

 

P.P.S. Even a film like She's Lost Control has more insight into sex and sexual behavior. 

 

P.P.P.S. "Some people blame the addict; some people feel sorry for the addict.
              "But I was an addict out of lust, not need...."
              I'm trying to imagine what people would say if some screenwriter wrote that for a "Christian" movie.

Edited by kenmorefield

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I watched both parts a while ago. The first half was actually kind of fun, but the second devolves into LvT wallowing in most of his worst impulses.

 

I think LvT sees himself as Seligman, and Joe as all the actresses he's put through the wringer. Listening to their stories becomes a weird kind of penance or confrontation, kind of like Paul Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium.

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I wonder what to do with this news. Reassess all of von Trier's films? Accept the admission at face value, or -- and I'd be lying if I said this didn't cross my mind quickly after starting into the piece -- wonder if this is a publicity stunt

 

OK, that's probably too cynical even for von Trier!

 

Oh, and to tie this news to this specific thread:

 

Over the past year, Von Trier released two-part sex odyssey Nymphomaniac, the script for which he said had been written sober and taken 18 months. He said the screenplay for Dogville, meanwhile, had been completed during a 12-day drug binge.

Edited by Christian

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By far, my favorite Trier films are BREAKING THE WAVES and DOGVILLE. I've watched both of these films with my church group, and we had much to discuss after the fact. These are Trier's most substantial works, in any case. I do like ANTICHRIST a lot, however. I realize that it is a controversial film, but it is not without merit. I've seen both versions of NYMPHOMANIAC and have no plans to return to either one of them. 

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That's one helluva church group!!!! ;)

Edited by Attica

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