Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"Nymphomaniac, Volume 1"

Lars von Trier, the foremost provocateur of contemporary cinema  returns with "Nymphomaniac", an ambitious, heavily symbolic and fleshy epic (in two full length parts) that contains some of the richness of Kafka or Thomas Mann.

Once again, the hypnotic Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as Joe, an extremely tortured woman who confesses that she is insatiable in sexual appetite and has no morals. She hungers for sex like an unattainable toxic serum.

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) is the somewhat shy older man who finds Joe flattened, gorily twisted on the cobblestones and takes her home. She begins to tell her story to the older man---an enigma in his own right.

As Joe is bruised and scorched-looking with gray blue mottled skin, her progressively intense and somewhat bitter repartee recalls Regan and Father Karras from "The Exorcist", just a smidgen, especially with Gainsbourg's anemic face, her staring eyes and her brown-black hair hanging on her head like sable seaweed from a sick mermaid, as she bobs about on the bed, half limp, yet oddly energized.

Nature seems to cocoon Joe with inclement weather as the rain falls in a steady visible mist.

Seligman is both delighted and put off by Joe's Sadean adventures and he does become both a vicarious spectator and a humanist confidant as he takes in his visitor's story.

We learn that Joe gets more and more driven in what could be either a sick pursuit or a voyage to the limits of sexuality, although given the Gothic vaulted heaviness throughout, this does not seem a positive pursuit.

The priestly Seligman is fascinated that Joe's number of encounters corresponds to the Fibonacci number code, a mathematical constant that is found in various natural forms, from branches to nautilus shells.

There is something mystical afoot here, but as the film progresses, there is reason to suspect the demonic or at least the negative.

We see a younger Joe (Stacy Martin) become more and more aggressive: a pale, angry flowered hellion who is physically disgusted by weddings and turns violent. She grows older and uses men as drones or marionettes. She breaks up families causing the collapse of Mrs. H (Uma Thurman).  The sacrament of Love is defiled and cast aside with an anti-religious intensity. Joe toys with her first beau, Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) in making him appear to have all the potency. If that is not enough, Joe  has sex in a hospital bed, after sitting with her terminal father (Christian Slater)

If this is too far out or indulgent for some, a clue might be that von Trier ---like the original Surrealists before him--- is fascinated by the ritual of sex and the boundaries of convention.

All of von Trier's eerie drear is well in force: from patters of snowy rain, witchy branches and stricken looks, to Beardsley engravings, gusting trees and grainy skies. Even with all the self-same visual icons and some over- the-top heavy metal Rammstein music, it all works. No one does a Walpurgis Night film better.

And it is a testament to the sorcery of the director and the mesmerizing Gainsbourg that after two hours of "Nymphomaniac" we are transfixed by this riddle of a woman possessed and lust for the second half's intrigue.

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