Nymphomaniac hits Berlin cinemas on February 20.
If David O. Russell’s hit American Hustle exemplifies the erotics of politics, then Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Part 1 reads like a politics of the erotic (Part 2 shows up in May). Two hours of porn by a man for whom sex is no delivery from mortal anxiety, there is a lot of talk of reading. And fly-fishing. And books about fishing that are mentioned in novels about courtship – it’s like My Dinner with Andre with cunnilingus. Those expecting a one-hander will be pleased by the patches of what looks to be unsimulated sex (the credits claim that only the unfamous participated in actual coitus. And that no animals were harmed during filming. These points are not unrelated), but it’s more of a philosophically materialist two-hander between Charlotte Gainsbourg’s title character and Stellan Skarsgård’s shabby, kindly intellectual almost-Jew. Or is he kindly? He’s certainly engaged by Gainsbourg’s Joe’s 1001+ nights. Their high-handed discussions could easily be drowned out by the continual coitus of Joe’s younger, oft-naked self, played by Stacy Martin, who looks a bit like Gainsbourg’s real-life mom, but more than resembles another former almost-kiddie model, Jane March of The Lover — particularly when she’s coquettish in pigtails.
These sort of metafictional intellectual diary films a la Godard’s Le Chinois are difficult to pull off, as the actors need to maintain the discourse along with the role. But it’s an incredibly playful work, a summing up of Trier’s post-Breaking the Waves concerns. It feels like one of those compilation albums a record company puts out after a major artist leaves – a Lars’ Greatest Hits with satisfying riffs on favorite topics from the Calvinism to the inevitability of behaviorism to the falseness of narrative (and malleability of form) to female masochism as social rebellion to the tragicomedy of family dysfunction to office work. Plus so much young fucking, it’s not only a film Woody Allen would never be allowed to make these days, it’s one he’d need court supervision to view.
I can’t recall either actor being better, even out-acting an inverted homage to Anne Severson’s Near the Big Chakra aka The Cunt Movie featuring a parade of penises. I suspect that Trier’s provocations and the audience’s expectations may have finally synced. With the risk of it then surpassing him, his next major provocation may be to himself. We’ll find out in May.
Nymphomaniac Part 1 | Directed by Lars von Trier (Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, UK 2013) with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård. Starts February 20