Joe’s Parable – ★★★
Nymphomaniac is a very unerotic film about sex, but then why should a film about an addiction be anything but bleak and depressing?
Finally we can stop listening to the usual nonsense that surrounds a Lars von Triers film and judge it simply by the piece itself. Watched back to back with a fifteen minute interval cutely dubbed “Nymphomaniac: One Night Stand”, the film comes in at a total running time of 241 minutes.
Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Joe who we see bloodied and bruised in an alleyway. As luck would have it, this is on Seligman’s (Stellan Skarsgård’s) route home from the shops. He invites Joe in for tea and some rest and she then begins to recount her series of sexual exploits which Seligman is only too happy to listen to interjecting with his theories on fly fishing and more besides. The film is incredibly dialogue heavy, with constant voice-overs, flash-forwards requiring narration and flashbacks. We are then constantly interrupted by Seligman asking the questions von Trier thinks we would want asked.
Over the four hours we are introduced to a host of characters; Stacy Martin plays Young Joe for the longest period, Shia LaBeouf is Jerome, the longest lasting man in her life and then Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater all make worthwhile contributions to the film. Thurman is the wife left behind thanks to one of Joe’s dalliances. She turns up at her apartment with her three children to confront Joe and her husband. This is one of the funniest segments of the film with some interesting points about the reality of affairs. While entertaining due to the dialogue and how the scene plays out, it is total farce and completely unbelievable.
At one point in the epic saga Seligman stops Joe to ask does she honestly expect us to believe the sudden plot twist. A nice get out clause by von Trier as if he is saying “look I know this is completely unrealistic but go with it O.K.” but merely highlighting the difficulties with plot credibility does not negate the fact that there are massive problems with the plot. This is not in the various sexual encounters but more so how characters paths come to cross.
With the film covering Joe’s childhood to when we find her in the alleyway, it does allow us the character of her father played fantastically by Christian Slater and resulting in one of the toughest scenes to watch involving Slater’s character in a hospital. The bond between Joe and her father thankfully doesn’t devolve into Freudian gibberish. All characters are not as enjoyable to watch, with LaBeouf being the constant out of tune instrument in von Trier’s orchestra. I imagine he is supposed to be English although his accent does a good trip around the world before settling a little shy of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins territory.
There will certainly be talk as to whether the film addresses misogyny or uses it for its own gain. While the film is very concerned with female sexuality and the boundaries enforced on women by society, just like Blue is the Warmest Colour from last year, let us not forget that Nymphomaniac is directed by a man and for a 4 hour film has only one well defined female character. There is even a ridiculous point of gender bias when three years pass by allowing us to transform from Young Joe (Stacy Martin) to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Joe all the while Jerome stays as Shia LeBeouf for much more of the film before becoming Michael Pas as older Jerome.
The fact that there are two volumes is over indulgence at its worst. The film could easily have been trimmed to one instalment and even perhaps at three hours it would seem a more worthwhile endeavour.
There are some brilliant points made about the role of women within society, relationships, family life and how their actions are judged so much more harshly than men’s. With fantastic performances from Gainsbourg and Skarsgård, it’s a pity they somehow get lost in all the bells and whistles.
Released in Ireland in two volumes at Dublin’s Lighthouse and IFI on Friday the 28th of February 2014