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Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Willem Dafoe
Length: Vol I. 118 min Vol. II 123 min
Label: Artificial Eye
Release Date: April 28, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Type: Color and B+W
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Interviews with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia Labeouf, Stacey Martin, and Stellan Skarsgard
- Live Q+A with Stellan Skarsgard, Stacey Martin, and Sophie Kennedy Clarke
Lars Von Trier’s name carries great weight. For many he can be summarized in few words. These words, however, differ greatly depending on whom you are speaking with. Often, provocateur is thrown out; on the other hand, visionary wouldn’t be uncommon. He is a director that lives on his ability to elicit extreme reactions. While his beliefs, or at least his poor remarks, have garnished detractors, there remains something enchanting about his work. With the release of both Volume 1 and 2 of Nymphomaniac, Von Trier has concluded his Depression trilogy, which began with the 2009 film Antichrist and also included Melancholia (2011). After wrapping up a rather tumultuous theatrical run, Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2, are now available for UK fans on Blu-Ray and DVD, through the arthouse distributor Artificial Eye.
What can be said about Nymphomaniac that hasn’t already been said? To begin, the film is challenging, but, as already described, you come to expect a challenge with the Von Trier name. It is not only that the film itself is challenging¾of course the story of a female self-hating nymphomaniac from a director continually chastised for his alleged sexist depictions would be ripe for criticism¾but also the narrative devices utilized, the voice, the intent, and the viewing role. It is easy to relegate the stylization, and almost humorous elements, of Nymphomaniac to mere cinematic fodder¾the provocation of a so-called provocateur¾but this is a stance that comes far too easy. Rather, it would be more beneficial to view the film as purposefully didactic. Von Trier seems to understand a certain faction of viewers that will chalk up anything he creates to meaningless incitement, and so he toys with these viewers. He gives them an out, it is simple: if you fail to look beyond the surface you miss what the films are saying. He achieves this ploy through the over-explanation of every possible symbol, every story structure, analogy, technical stylization, etc. What is left is a hodgepodge of experimentation, strung through a lengthy dialogue between two polar opposite characters.
Beginning in darkness, the film quickly erupts into a visual and aural symphony, as Von Trier’s wandering camera guides you through the labyrinthesque alleyway, just outside of Seligman’s (Stellan Skarsgård) shabby apartment. The camera reaches its resting place at the seemingly lifeless body of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Badly beaten, a point that won’t be resolved until well into the second volume, Joe remains motionless until Seligman discovers her. After helping her up, and allowing her to return to his apartment to recover, Joe begins to recount her life story to Seligman. Through her story, Joe believes that she can effectively explain to Seligman the reasons she believes herself to be a bad person, a fact, for Joe, which is intrinsic to her lifelong bout with nymphomania. The rest of the film unfolds in chapters from Joe’s life, told in chronological order.
The narrative itself is entertaining, and, despite a few comical aspects, is sound. Aside from a series of excellent performances from Skarsgård, Gainsbourg, Christian Slater and Uma Thurman, the film is most remarkable in its visual nature. What is most admirable about the film is the way that Von Trier experiments from chapter to chapter. Almost every chapter is visually unique, whether it is a change in narrative devices, aspect-ration, film grain, or color; the film is in a perpetual state of visual unrest. It forces the viewer to understand the plot through its visuals, and often the strongest plot points are delivered through purely visual means.What is most disturbing about the film is the depiction of sexuality. Some of the most unappealing and least visual shots occur during sex scenes. In fact, it could be argued that Von Trier heightens the masochistic scenes in the film with more sexual energy than he does any of the nonviolent ones. The film struggles to find a singular ideological stance, and this is where he will lose those viewers that need to be ideologically grounded. However, it could be argued (and perhaps it should be) that Von Trier is wholly uninterested in singular ideologies. If nothing else, Nymphomaniac will challenge to view the world differently, even if only for a few hours.
Nymphomaniac is not a film for everyone. It will not be remembered as Von Trier’s most important film, or even his most engaging, but it is entertaining and visually stunning. It is a film that can be understood in a single viewing, but begs to be reanalyzed time and time again. Love it or hate it, Nymphomania should be experienced at least once by any self-proclaimed cinephile.
The Arri Alexa camera has been responsible for quite a few films which boast strikingly beautiful, natural-looking cinematography, including Byzantium and Simon Killer (both 2012). Manuel Alberto Claro’s cinematography is very naturalistic, seemingly using all natural light sources. Unlike many films shot on video, this one has texture, and Artificial Eye’s Blu-Ray transfer does it full justice.
Both the Master Audio 5.1 and the LPCM 2.0 tracks sound clean and crisp, with a pleasant body and easy to understand dialogue. The bold soundtrack, a mesh of classical music and modern metal, is dynamic and is felt as well as heard.
While the packaging and graphic design for the film are impressive, Artificial Eye has a nice branding that is not intrusive but still is immediately identifiable, the film does not have an abundance of special features. What is present are a series of interviews with cast members Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia Labeouf, Stacey Martin, and Stellan Skarsgard, as well as a Live Q+A with Stellan Skarsgard, Stacey Martin, and Sophie Kennedy Clarke. As of now, however, the film remains the only Blu-Ray on the market, so we have to wait until July to see if the US Blu-Ray release will offer more special features. Either way, the added interviews offer a unique insight into working on the film and with Von Trier. Since it doesn’t look like Criterion will be offering a release for either Nymphomaniac, or the second in the trilogy, Melancholia, odds are Artificial Eye’s release will be the best on the market.
While the film’s metaphors and cultural, historical analogies can be insufferable at times, the film begs the viewer to look beyond what is offered at face value. If you are able to do so, you will find value in the film. Troubled as it is, Nymphomaniac is an important and bold cinematic experience. Now, thanks to Artificial Eye’s beautiful release, UK (and those with Region-Free players) fans are able to own a definitive Blu-Ray collection.