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Lars Von Triers Coitus Interruptus

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is unsatisfying in more ways than one.

Published: February 19, 2014 (Issue # 1798)



  • Sophie Kennedy Clark, left, and Stacy Marten in Lars von Triers Nymphomaniac Vol. 1.
    Photo: Christian Geisnaes / Zentropa

At one point in Lars Von Triers new film Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 Charlotte Gainsbourgs character Joe says, We are all just waiting for permission to die. If Von Triers previous film Melancholia embraced the liberating ecstasy of total annihilation, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is the sad, seedy comedown after the rapture fails to materialize. Its no wonder the character longs for the grave.

Before the film, a disclaimer informing the audience that the movie has been censored with the approval, but not the participation, of the director appears on screen. The films producers have said that this was a commercial decision to allow the film access to more markets. With von Triers radio silence after his Nazi remarks during the promotion of his last film, who is to know exactly what to make of this. While his producers have been forthcoming on the subject, and both versions of the film have been edited by the same editor who worked on Melancholia, the move reeks of cowardice and avarice.

The film begins with an image of oily looking water running down a brick wall onto the lid of a trashcan. This is followed by a shot of a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe) lying unconscious nearby. That the first two things to detach themselves from the gritty surroundings are the trashcan and the main protagonist says a lot about the way Von Trier wants us to see the character. A Puritan at heart, the director casts Joe in the role of the redeemable harlot rescued from the streets.

The story is told in flashback as Joe narrates her erotic adventures to a voyeuristic fisherman named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) who plays the voice of indulgent rationalism. Her sexual awakening, trawling train carriages for sex and the logistical problems of trying to schedule up to ten trysts a night are all illustrated with sarcastic humor and unsimulated sex. Shuttling between Seligmans dreary room and the equally abject spaces Joe inhabits in her recollections, the film is a bleak portrait of the uses of lust and a rather tired, sensationalist rehashing of arguments about sexual liberation.

Taking literary convention as its cue, the first two-hour volume consists of five chapters and is a sort of Delta of Venus Anaïs Nins collection of short stories written for a collector of erotica which deals with omnivorous sexuality. With Gainsbourg as a scratchy-voiced Scheherazade and Skarsgard as the intellectual collector, or the lucky one as he remarks about halfway through the first part of the film, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 plays more like theater than cinema.

While von Trier nods to filmmakers Ingmar Bergman, Peter Greenaway and Stanley Kubrick through various visual and audio cues, his film focus on the voyeuristic and pornographic tendencies of the medium and claustrophobic psychological spaces.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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