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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, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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