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One of these films that almost defies writing anything about it, be it positive or negative. If Lars von Trier makes a movie called “Nymphomaniac” with Charlotte Gainsbourg in the lead role, I feel you cannot but get exactly what it says on the package. A cruel and poetic film about a tormented soul, a woman suffering from life, because life has dealt her bad cards. She cannot be satisfied, neither sexually nor emotionally, and this drives her to ever more varying constellations of love, sex and other forms of emotional and physical turmoil.

All this is wrapped in a story about her being found, abused and hurt, by an apparently arbitrary bystander (Charlotte Gainsbourg as the woman, Stellan Skarsgård as the man), who gets her a cup of tea and a blanket, and she decides to dump her whole life’s story on him. This does not make any sense, but it provides the necessary background for jumping between her life’s episodes. It is one way of handling it, maybe executed a bit more clumsily than you would have wished for. You may wonder whether a different structure, without the framework narrative, would not have worked better. Only the very final scene of the film gives an answer to this, where it pays off to have involved Skarsgård for the whole duration of the story instead of having him just join in the end.

There is no need to scandalise the film for its depiction of sexuality, as with previous von Trier films, even the most explicit scenes are hardly designed to provoke any sense of pornographic feeling about this film. Sexuality to this woman is a part of her life that is way larger than she can bear, it dominates every aspect  of her being without ever allowing her to reach a point of satisfaction where she could relax and take a cool breath. She will, it seems, always be driven by an emptiness inside her, by a pathological need that is beyond remedy. Skarsgård has the role of keyword provider in this (with the exception of the final scene – which I did not find to be very convincing) and is rather underutilised. In general, however, it is astonishing as ever what brave and able actress this Charlotte Gainsbourg is, absolutely fearless in the depcition of what needs to be depicted, without false pretense and without unnecessary drama. One of the really great actresses of her generation.

Von Trier shows that he is still able to address relevant and dramatic issues, but he also shows that the technical task of creating a movie, from writing until editing,  is sometimes (too frequently) a bit overwhelming to him. He could do with some good script doctors and editors, so that his films end being as messy as they have recently been. They are still beautiful and astonishing, but they could be so much better if the creative master had some more technical control over things.

I have no idea, by the way, why this is treated as two separate films. It is one piece of story, and should be consumed as such. But for what it’s worth, part 1 has the better poster.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nymphomaniac_volume_i/

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nymphomaniac_volume_ii/

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