By Sascha Krieger
Nymphomaniac Volume I (long version) (Out of Competition / Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden / Director: Lars von Trier)
Lars von Trier’s domain is the extreme: of human existence, experience, desires. He goes where no other filmmaker dares to venture. In the process, he continuously reinvents film making, finding new visual expressions, narrative techniques, often laying bare what he’s doing, questioning the virtue of illusion. After encompassing all of human experience in Melancholia he now goes down into the dirt. Nymphomaniac which he had split into two parts, begins with a series of stark bare images: snow falling, water running down a brick wall, a woman lying on the ground. The silence us brutally interrupted by the heavy riffs of Rammstein. Thus begins the story the woman tells her „rescuer“, a story of limitless sex, compulsive, mechanical, all-devouring. Nymphomaniac asks what happens when someone denies all that we regard as human – emotion, love, relationships – and reduces her experience to the mechanical aspects of life, mainly sex in all its varieties. Von Trier moves between past and present, adds chapter headings, works with writing, split screens, black and white. The story splinters into episodes, fragments dealing with sexual awakening, perfectly organized schedules of sex encounters, the fear of love, death. There are secondary narrative levels: in one episode, the woman’s behavior is compared to fly-fishing, in another to polyphonic music. Von Trier throws pieces to the audience: some humor, plenty of pornography, even a little melodrama meets farce – courtesy of a brilliant performance by Uma Thurman, who plays an abandoned wife in the only scene with anything close to true emotional power. As so often, the meaning is hidden somewhere in the rhythm of images, words, sound (music plays a major part), in the breaks, the stops and starts, the narrative twists and turns, the meta levels. Much of Volume I is undoubtedly meant to shock: the real (?) sex, the genitals, the multitude of coital exercises. But there is also a strange rough poetry in this jumbled portrait of a lost and self-mutilated soul that behaves so hostile – towards her environment, herself, us. The fascinating pull Lars von Trier’s films so often create, however, is largely missing in what remains a disjointed series of fragments, a deliberate mess whose parts don’t fit and aren’t supposed to. Also, the narrative frame irritates with its conventional linearity. Perhaps it will all fall into place in Volume II. PS: at the photo call (he no longer attends press conferences), Lars von Trier sported a T-shirt bearing the Cannes palm leaf and the inscription „Persona Non Grata“. He is, after all, not a rule breaker but a rule denier.
Nymphomaniac Volume I (© Christian Geisnæs)