5 Reasons for the Mania Surrounding ‘Nymphomaniac’
This December visionary filmmaker Lars Von Trier makes his long-awaited return with the epic sexual chronicle Nymphomaniac.
The Danish born director and screenwriter has divided critics in the past with his stylised and controversial films but in time for his next release he has certainly acquired something of a cult following; bridging the gap between the Avant-garde and mainstream cinema. Here are five reasons for the mania surrounding Nymphomaniac.
5. The Director
One of the founders of the Dogme 95 collective, who strove to return filmmaking to its fundamental principles – story, acting and theme – Lars Von Trier is the self proclaimed ‘biggest director in the world’. Despite the blatant arrogance, I cannot help but agree! Von Trier first rose to international attention with his feature film The Element of Crime in 1984. Since then, his ambitious and visually arresting style has won him a string of awards and attracted some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Von Trier’s commitment to artistry and extreme narratives over ‘easy-viewing’ has propelled his films into a genre of their own. In this way I stand by his well acknowledged self-confidence, for me he stimulates and entertains in equal measure. Von Trier’s films take us to the dark parts of the human psyche through a combination of exquisite imagery and original technique that for me are second to none.
While Von Trier has often been criticised for his unorthodox directorial style, his notoriety does not in my opinion outweigh the quality of his films. After appearing in Dancer in the Dark (2000) Björk famously stated that she would never act again, claiming that the whole process had been emotionally taxing. In agreement with some of the filmmakers biggest critics the multi-award winning musician later revealed that she found Von Trier to be misogynistic. While his films often explore themes of sadism, the director too, not one to be outshone by his films, has been criticised for putting his actors through hell. Von Trier’s strict orders of method acting were said to have exhausted actress Nicole Kidman in 2003’s Dogville. In a difficult scene where Kidman is forced to where a collar around her neck, she has stated in interviews that the choking we see in the film was in fact, to a degree, wholly realistic. Von Trier pushes the boundaries of what popular culture accepts and challenges his actors with an all-immersing film experience which many cite as being unparalleled. Though I in no way agree with torturing your staff to achieve great results, I must admit that I find the list of actors who have returned to star in Von Trier’s films to in part betray the claims that the auteur’s directorial approach is too austere. Even Kirsten Dunst, (Melancholia) who despite agreeing that Von Trier is a challenge to work with has been reported to have requested a role in Von Trier’s next film, (after Nymphomaniac that is, for both parties agreed that she was probably not suitable for the highly sexualised film).
Controversy aside, it is my opinion that Lars Von Trier is without doubt one of the most innovative and talked-about filmmakers of our time. He has had and continues to have an astonishing influence on both Art House and mainstream cinema in his native Denmark and all over the world. Through Von Trier’s singular vision we are constantly challenged to review our expectations of contemporary, borderline mainstream cinema. For me, this is particularly important in a society where we are saturated with mediocre, box-ticking films which all too easily adhere to a tired formula. This being said, what I find most interesting about Von Trier as a director is his preference for that formula in favour of entirely unconventional approaches to filmmaking which we see in many Art House movies. In many ways I believe this is why Von Trier is so popular with a wide range of audiences. As with the Dogma 95 collective, Von Trier follows the traditional principles of filmmaking but incorporates an original and stylised practice. As a rule, his films are highly thematic and underpinned by strong acting which is manipulated to essentially tell a good story. It is Von Trier’s visionary approach to this age-old formula which makes him both unique and successful with such a broad demographic. Written and directed by Von Trier, the two-part saga Nymphomaniac is tipped to be the artist’s magnum-opus.
4. The Style
Whether its letting theme and commanding performances speak for themselves in the paired-down and super minimal Dogville or crafting grandiose, edenesque worlds laced with the macabre in Antichrist, Lars Von Trier’s distinctive style never fails to enthral. While Von Trier’s last two films have shown a more refined and artistic side to the filmmaker, his Dogme film The Idiots and Brechtian tale Dogville were shot on an unadorned stage where props and doors were often only suggested and drawn on with chalk. 2009’s exceptional Antichrist was my first foray into the beautiful and at times haunting world of Von Trier. The slow-mo, monochrome opening sequence truly wowed me and remains to this day one of my all time favourite establishing shots. Here, the operatic score and thoughtful, elegant cinematography coupled with that infamous real-life sex scene for me established a calibre of filmmaking worlds apart from other contemporary cinema. Antichrist explores a woman’s grief after the death of her son while presenting the natural world as an enemy. Teeming with symbolism and meticulously composed with Antichrist Von Trier seemed to have dressed up and enriched the ideas which made his earlier films so enticing.
Von Trier is by no means elitist. In 2011’s Melancholia the director tackles universal problems of human relations and adds a creative disaster movie tinge. Switching between shaky, hand-held shots akin to his earlier work and the CGI enhanced super slow-mo footage of nebulas and a world slowly being pulled apart from its roots, Melancholia as with so many of Von Trier’s films challenges how the visual can interact with the narrative. Imagery in Melancholia pulls, drags and slows down as the protagonists depression consumes her and everything in its wake. Essentially this is intelligent filmmaking. It has all the big names and traditional story-telling elements which are present in Hollywood blockbusters but it is ceaselessly thoughtful and inventive. What I really enjoy about Von Trier’s style however is its accessibility. You don’t get the uncomfortable sensation when watching so many independent films that the director is attempting to alienate you. There are no insincere nods and chin-scratches nor do you feel like you need to make a swift exit from the room for fear of being quizzed on the true meaning of what you’ve just seen. I have watched his films alone and shared them with family and friends and on some level his remarkable style has struck a chord with everyone. For me he is innovative without falling into obscurity and thus groundbreaking because of this. It takes a lot for something different to be widely recognised. Think of Andy Warhol or indeed Lady Gaga who seems to be attracting ever more intellectual debate.
Melancholia was Von Trier’s last film and he retained the stimulating cinematography which made Antichrist one of those films that in almost every still is a beautiful photograph in its own right. Von Trier’s talent for crafting stunning visuals underpinned by an intelligent and thought provoking narrative make his approach to filmmaking one of the most challenging and rewarding styles in contemporary cinema. The first appetisers for Nymphomaniac have not given a great deal away in terms of style other than that symbolism will again be important to the narrative. An excerpt of chapter one, ‘The Complete Angler’ uses the metaphor of fishing to represent the bait the young girl will use to seduce the men on the train. Her sexual victory is manifest in a bag of chocolates. How the entirety of her sexual odyssey will be recounted is yet to be unveiled but it seems as with his earlier work symbols will play a big part in exploring the narrative.
3. The Build-Up
While other directors may have already clinched the ‘master of suspense’ title, Lars Von Trier has certainly mastered the technique of keeping his fan-base captivated and generating a hive of interest in the run up to his latest release. Von Trier’s distinctive new website which is dedicated to Nymphomaniac unfurls seamlessly like origami as you scroll down. The eye-brow raising parentheses which form the ‘O’ in Nymphomaniac open up provocatively to reveal the content. Need I point out the connotations of the female anatomy? Each month in the run up to December, Von Trier will release a short excerpt of film, a photograph and short descriptive text of each of the film’s eight chapters. So far, two of the eight chapters have been revealed: ‘The Complete Angler’ and ‘Jerôme’. The latter depicts Shia LaBeouf as a womanising, predatory boss introducing the young woman from chapter one to his office. This wry, self-promotional technique has already accrued a wealth of attention with critics both deriding and praising the brazen egotism. Personally, I think this practice of being drip fed tit-bits of information is perfect. What better way to promote a film which explores obsession and insatiable sexual desire than by treating its audience as addicts craving their next hit. I’m certainly hooked!
2. The All-Star Cast
One of the first promotional shots for Nymphomaniac showed how Lars Von Trier has pooled all of his high-earning contacts for his latest film. The ensemble photograph, showing each of the characters in a risqué, semi-pornographic position inside a warehouse shows an array of Hollywood names and regular Von Trier actors. Among the famous faces are Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Shia laBeouf, Christian Slater and Von Trier favourite Charlotte Gainsbourg. Dafoe and Gainsbourg acted (all but exclusively) together in Antichrist and in my opinion gave exceptional performances as a couple dealing with grief and terror. I for one am excited to see if they will be sharing the screen in Nymphomaniac and how their chemistry may differ from the dark and tortured couple we saw in Antichrist.
1. The Controversy
Not one to shy away from controversy, Lars Von Trier’s latest lip-biting escapade is tipped to exceed the provocateurs reputation. Many, including the man himself have claimed that it will be one of the most controversial films of all time. This may seem like a lot of empty bluster but Antichrist, with its scenes of intensely graphic self-mutilation certainly lived up to the promise of shock and led to a torrent of angry demands for censorship. The director, who seems to revel in the revolting has frequently referred to himself as a cultural radical. Again I feel obliged to make allowances for egotism and am forced to agree! Love him or hate him, Von Trier has kept tongues wagging despite the fact that his own has been famously clamped firmly behind duck-taped lips! Since the Nazi controversy surrounding an interview at the Cannes film festival for the release of Melancholia, Von Trier has disciplined himself with a vow of silence, coyly posting a photo of himself with tape across his lips to promote Nymphomaniac. Dare I suggest bondage anyone?
Sex of course is the focal point for discussion. While Antichrist made the headlines with graphic sex and torture porn scenes, in Nymphomaniac, Von Trier will be using some digital mastery to simulate sex between the cast using porn-stars genitals composited onto the bodies of the film’s cast. The director has revealed that two versions of the film will be released, a soft and hardcore edition. This will no doubt aggravate Von Trier’s detractors who have criticised the director for glamorising pornography. As in Antichrist, Nymphomaniac is said to explore themes of sex and violence from the perspective of a self-confessed nymphomaniac who recounts her experiences from birth to the age of 50. The director with an appetite for the eye-watering has definitely got us lusting for his new release, only December will tell if Nymphomaniac is deserving of the mania!
What do you think? Leave a comment.