Tag Archives: Lars von Trier

The House that Jack Built (2018) Review

Time: 155 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence, sadistic cruelty and sexual violence
Cast:
Matt Dillon as Jack
Bruno Ganz as Verge
Uma Thurman as Lady 1
Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Claire Miller – Lady 2
Sofie Gråbøl as Lady 3
Riley Keough as Jacqueline – “Simple”
Jeremy Davies as Al
Director: Lars von Trier

In five episodes, failed architect and vicious sociopath Jack (Matt Dillon) recounts his elaborately orchestrated murders — each, as he views them, a towering work of art that defines his life’s work as a serial killer in the Pacific Northwest.

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Having watched Lars von Trier’s past few films (Nymphomaniac, Melancholia and Antichrist) recently, I had been meaning to check out The House that Jack Built. It’s yet another controversial film from the polarising director, with his next movie following a serial killer. With the movies I’ve seen by him, I can usually appreciate and like them, but there’s something about them which I couldn’t bring myself to love or get on board fully with. The House that Jack Built however managed to be the exception to the rule and really was a real surprise of a film. Entertaining, fascinating, full with ideas and led by a fantastic performance by Matt Dillon, The House that Jack Built is one of the best films of the year.

The House that Jack Built is 2 hours and a half and when it comes to watching this movie, you have to really be prepared to sit yourself down to watch all of it. It’s divided into 5 ‘incidents’ as well as an epilogue and is basically a dive into the mind of a serial killer. The incidents all sounds very repetitive on paper, even with Jack finding new ways to kill his victims, however they do make sure that each of these killings have their own significance to Jack. It’s pretty clear that these aren’t the only murders that he has committed, it’s just the 5 instances that he decides to talk to a voice named Verge (Bruno Ganz) about. Speaking of that, the movie isn’t just about killing, a big part of the movie is Jack narrating talking with Verge, while some of their discussions are about his actions, their discussions can also range to art, icons in history, architecture and plenty of other things as well. Like with some bits of the discussions in Nymphomaniac, it can be a little too self indulgent at times but most of the conversations were interesting to listen to. There’s even a moment when they’re talking about art and it shows on screen some of Lars von Trier’s own movies. There is a real self-awareness to this movie which I think benefited it, and that’s possibly why I enjoy watching this one more than his others, Lars seemed to be genuinely having a good time making this movie and you could feel it. I think something that will surprise everyone is the effective dark comedy that is used. For example, the first two incidents are mostly hilarious. An example is in one of the incidents where Jack has murdered someone and is trying to leave a crime scene but because of his OCD keeps thinking that there’s still blood left behind and keeps having to go back inside the house to clean up the non-existent blood, even when the police can be heard coming closer. The movie is not a laugh riot from beginning to end though, there are some particularly grim moments, incidents 3 and 4 stand out as being that. Now the movie has an epilogue that is so far removed from the rest of the movie. It could polarise some but I personally loved it, it worked to tie together the whole story and the ending was really the only way the movie would’ve ended. Side note but I think a large part of watching the movie is that it’s probably Lars von Trier reflecting on himself and his work, he even said that out of all the characters that he wrote, Jack is the closest to himself. Going into the movie knowing that made things more interesting but I’m sure you could watch the movie perfectly fine not knowing too much about the reviled director.

Matt Dillon gives one of the best performances of the entire year as Jack. Whether The House that Jack Built would work as a movie relied on a number of things (it could’ve easily turned out to be a disaster), and one of the most critical things was the performance of the titular Jack character. I haven’t seen Dillon in much outside of Crash but he did a fantastic job here. He is great at showing Jack’s development over the 12 years, especially how he starts off not being that great as a killer, and then him becoming much more unstable, experienced and more willing to take risks as the film progresses. He also showed great range, going from being awkward and hilarious and intimidating in the next. The supporting cast which includes Riley Keough and Uma Thurman were all pretty good, though usually just limited to one scene appearances. The standout supporting actor was Bruno Ganz who voices Verge, who Jack speaks to. I didn’t mention this before but I feel like Verge was essential to this movie working, as during the narration portions when they are talking, they conflict and debate a lot. Without Verge, we would just be watching Jack discuss his killings and talking about his perception about art without being challenged at all. The film needed some sort of moral centre and it certainly wasn’t going to be Jack’s victims who get like 10 minutes of screentime max. On top of that, Verge calls out Jack for a bunch of things, whether that be his misogyny, arrogance or his ego. Because of this, I highly disagree with all the criticisms of this movie glorifying serial killers or being misogynistic, the movie is pretty much condemning Jack throughout.

Lars von Trier’s direction is great and had a really good look to it. His previous movies do this but they have that weird unnecessary cutting in scenes, I’m used to it by now though but I can see other people finding it rather distracting. Overall though the editing really helped and added to the movie. The third act is vastly different from the rest of the movie, and without spoiling anything has some stunning visuals, it truly is a spectacle to watch. I pretty much loved everything they did with the movie. Now to deal with the elephant in the room: the violence. I heard much of the scenes of violence before going in. With the violence, they go the more realistic route rather than the bloodbath approach, I’d say that less blood was seen here than in American Psycho (to compare it to another serial killer movie). I know it’s a weird thing to say but honestly I found the violence to be way tamer than I thought it would be (not to say that most people will be perfectly fine with the violence in this movie). I’d say honestly its more about what exactly happens that’s disturbing than how it’s portrayed. That’s not to say however that there aren’t scenes that aren’t hard to watch (again primarily in incidents 3 and 4), but they are careful not to be too gratioutous with what happens. For example there’s a moment when Jack can be seen cutting off a body part (at least in the director’s cut) and it only lasts for like one second, and that was one of the more graphic moments of the film. There are two versions of the movie, the director’s cut and the theatrical cut, I managed to watch the director’s cut. I have a feeling there’s a slight difference regarding the violence, with some cuts to slightly tone it down a bit. However, if you’re really questioning which version to watch, I don’t think it would be a major difference honestly (I still think the director’s cut is the way to go). I will say this though, if you could stomach von Trier’s Antichrist, then I don’t think you will have too much of a problem with this film.

The House that Jack Built won’t be for everyone, along with the violence and the fact that it’s about a serial killer, it is quite an ‘arty’ movie and has a lot more going on with it. People just expecting a simple serial killer movie will be let down. To me, it’s one of the best films of the year. Along with its great direction, its darkly hilarious, fantastically made and features one of the year’s best performances by Matt Dillon. I have a feeling that this is von Trier’s last film, given some of the things that happen in the movie as well as the ending, if that’s the case then he’s ending on a high note.

Antichrist (2009) Review

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Explicit sex, graphic violence and genital mutilation.
Cast:
Willem Dafoe as He
Charlotte Gainsbourg as She
Director: Lars von Trier

While a married couple (Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg) is having sex, their infant son in a nearby room falls out a window to his death. She becomes distraught and is hospitalized, but her husband, who is a psychiatrist, attempts to treat her. Deciding that she needs to face her fears, he takes her to a cabin in the woods where she spent a previous summer with the boy. Once they are there, she becomes more unhinged and starts perpetrating sexual violence on her husband and herself.

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Lars von Trier has made many controversial movies in his reasonably large filmography, however it’s his 2009 film Antichrist that is still his most controversial of all. Having watched a couple of von Trier’s previous movies, I checked this out knowing not a lot (outside of some of the infamous moments) and while I guess I can say that I like it, I’m not quite sure what to feel about a lot of it. Generally the response to Antichrist was that the performances and direction were fantastic but very mixed feelings about the actual substance, I’d say that’s the case with me except I lean towards liking the story more than hating it.

Antichrist under an hour and 50 minutes long and honestly I can’t imagine it being longer than that. It’s in the horror genre but it’s not a full on horror movie, definitely don’t go into the movie expecting a horror movie despite the plot being about a couple staying in a cabin in the woods. The movie doesn’t rush into the horrific parts of the movie, it’s a rather slow paced movie that really shows the psychological decline of the two main characters. The third act is where it goes heavy into the extreme violence and what you’re expecting from the movie. Unlike Lars von Trier’s following movies which are more literal with what happens on screen, it’s pretty clear that much of what happens are symbolic or have deeper meanings. I myself wasn’t exactly sure about all the meanings and by the end of the movie I wasn’t really sure what the point of everything was. I can definitely tell that Lars was trying to tell something, it’s not just “hey let’s put two people together and torture them”. However I wasn’t able to understand much of what the movie was trying to say, and I especially don’t get what the ending is supposed to indicate. I won’t go in depth too much with the thematic elements because it’s better experienced for yourself (if you so choose to watch the movie) and also because I myself didn’t pick up on much. However I will address the fact that this movie got so many accusations of misogyny when it came out. Von Trier himself has been accused of misogyny for a while and it started with this movie. From watching the movie and hearing some peoples’ takes on it, I’m more inclined to believe that it’s taking on misogyny more than being misogynistic. Not that I can’t see how they would think the opposite but personally I think misogyny is a prevalent and deliberate theme in Antichrist. Side note, but despite its title, this movie doesn’t involve the Antichrist (at least I don’t think it is). On top of that, from what I can tell the movie really is about depression and nature. As you can expect, pretty much all of the movie is dark and depressing, the happiest scene of the movie is the intro, and that’s the one where a child dies. It is really worth noting that LVT was going through depression while both writing and directing Antichrist, so no doubt that played a big part in the writing of the movie.

Really the only actors in the movie are Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg and they are fantastic. They play unnamed the unnamed couple (credited as He and She) who are trying to deal with the trauma of the death of their child, with Gainsbourg particularly suffering from depression. Dafoe is great as always but it’s Gainsbourg who is particularly impressive, with her having to do some very challenging things in the movie. There isn’t a ton of things when it comes to their characters, as they are more representative of ideas than actually being people.

This film is directed so beautifully by Lars von Trier, I loved the look, the use of colour, all of that. The opening sequence is simultaneously beautiful and tragic, shot in black and white and slow motion. Even before the movie goes to the darkest place of the story, it has such an unnerving feeling throughout, the way things are shot are just bleak. At the same time it’s a stunning looking movie, with beautiful visuals. Now this movie got hit with a lot of controversy, a big part of that being for the extreme content. There are some real sex scenes with real penetration (between Dafoe and Gainsbourg’s porn doubles, they didn’t do these moments themselves), and then there’s the violence. There isn’t a lot of it throughout the entire runtime but the majority of it is in the third act and it can be particularly grisly and unsettling. Now most of the graphic things that happen in the movie I heard before watching the movie, and because of this I think that’s why it didn’t bother me too much, though there were a couple scenes which were really hard to watch. I’ve also seen a lot of violent content in movies before so it wasn’t anything that challenging for me. On top of that, so much of the movie is metaphorical and symbolic that I sort of saw the characters more as representations of things than actual people, making it easier to watch. With that said it is still very graphic and if you are squeamish in the slightest, you aren’t going to be able to sit through to the end.

Saying that Antichrist is not for everyone would be an incredible understatement. It’s immaculately directed and the performances are incredible, but I’m not sure what to think about the rest of the movie yet. It wasn’t even so much the extreme content and more so what the movie is really about, I’m not against it, I just don’t completely understand what it’s trying to say (and I can tell that it’s definitely trying to say something). It may end up being a movie that I’ll need to revisit at some point in the future (even though I really don’t want to). Really all I can say is that if you have a very high threshold for movie violence and are open to more arty films, then maybe check it out if you’re interested in it. Outside of that, as good of a movie as it is, I can’t really recommend it.

Melancholia (2011) Review

Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language & nudity
Cast:
Kirsten Dunst as Justine
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Claire
Alexander Skarsgård as Michael
Kiefer Sutherland as John
Cameron Spurr as Leo
Charlotte Rampling as Gaby
John Hurt as Dexter
Jesper Christensen as Little Father
Stellan Skarsgård as Jack
Brady Corbet as Tim
Udo Kier as The Wedding Planner
Director: Lars von Trier

On the night of her wedding, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is struggling to be happy even though it should be the happiest day of her life. It was an extravagant wedding paid for by her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) who are trying to keep the bride and all the guests in line. Meanwhile, Melancholia, a blue planet, is hurtling towards the Earth. Claire, Justine’s sister, is struggling to maintain composure with fear of the impending disaster.

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I had heard about Melancholia for a while, I heard that it was Lars von Trier’s most accessible film yet, which wasn’t an easy thing to narrow down to considering his filmography. After watching and mostly liking his two part film Nymphomaniac, I decided to check this movie out. Melancholia is a great and impactful film about depression, with great performances and some really good direction. It’s not for everyone and is a bit overlong, but I thought it was really good.

Melancholia is pretty long at around 2 hours and 15 minutes. The film is split into two parts, one titled Justine (Kirsten Dunst) which is focussed on her wedding, and the other is titled Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), which is more focussed on the approaching planet of Melancholia potentially being the end of Earth. I don’t have a lot of problems with the movie but I will say that it might be a little overlong, it’s mostly with the first half. The first half is important in showing glimpses of Justine’s depression and all that, however this wedding section feels a little too drawn out and could’ve been shortened quite a bit. You do need to know going into Melancholia that it’s pretty slow paced, particularly early in the movie. Despite the plot sounding large scale on paper, it really is a character driven movie, and is more intimate than you’d think it would be. You have to really be focussed on everything that’s going on or you’re just going to lose interest in it all, I was and I had a good time with it. Melancholia is also a very artsy movie, with the way some of it is written and the way certain things are shown, and that could turn people off, for me it didn’t really. The first 8 minutes is full of just slow moving images and video, it could annoy some but personally I though it was fantastic and really haunting. Now know that I’m basing it off Nymphomaniac and what apparently is in von Trier’s other movies, but Melancholia doesn’t have this overwhelming feeling of just absolute bleakness that’s in his other movies. Nor does it force a ton of thematic elements all at the audience or anything like that. It’s much more straightforward, with the main theme being really about depression, and the parallels of Justine’s depression with the looming planet. Despite it being Lars’s most accessible movie, it’s not necessarily an easy watch, it’s a rather sad movie (as you can gather from the title, it’s not just in reference to the approaching planet) and as mentioned earlier, it’s a bit of a slow burn. There’s a reason why this movie along with Antichrist and Nymphomaniac have been called the Depression Trilogy. Without spoiling anything, despite knowing the ending, the last scene of the movie was really impactful and effective.

The acting all around is fantastic. Kirsten Dunst gives a career’s best performance in the lead role of Justine as someone with depression. A big part of the film is her character going through depression and she carries it incredibly well. It’s not a very showy performance, she just really embodies the character incredibly. Charlotte Gainsbourg is about as equally great as Dunst’s sister Claire. The relationship between the two sisters are one of the driving forces of the movie, especially how differently the two react to the looming threat of Melancholia. Justine seems to feel nothing, whereas Claire is constantly worried about it. The rest of the supporting cast are all great as well, from Kiefer Sutherland as Justine’s brother-in-low husband, Stellan Skarsgard as her boss, John Hurt as her father, Charlotte Rampling as her mother and Alexander Skarsgard as her husband. Most of them are just in the first half, we do however also get Sutherland in the second half, and his performance in Melancholia might be one of his best. The only thing about the casting that bothers me a little is that both Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard are in this movie, but they don’t play father and son or relatives or anything, so it’s a little distracting.

It seems like no one directs like Lars von Trier, his work on this movie is nothing short of fantastic. The cinematography is stunning and beautiful, and is done incredibly well. Some of the editing is a little weird where there are unnecessarily a lot of cuts done in many scenes, which is something that von Trier does sometimes. I guess it’s something that you have to get used to when it comes to his films. Throughout the film there is this sense of dread, with the whole thing about the planet Melancholia potentially going to destroy Earth, and it’s effectively haunting. While his films are usually more gritty and grounded, this film does involve some larger scale elements, with the whole film surrounding a planet potentially colliding with Earth. Now it’s not a full on sci-fi movie and most of it doesn’t have a bunch of crazy visuals, but nonetheless these big visual moments are also done really well.

Melancholia is probably the easiest of von Trier’s films to digest, by far the most accessible. I know this, because when it comes to recommending the movie, I don’t have to necessarily give a big warning about what his movies are like and all that. It is still not the most fun film to watch and it is a little overlong but it’s an incredibly well made and directed film and the performances are fantastic, especially from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. If you’re open to depressing slow-moving art films, I’d say definitely give Melancholia a chance, it’s really great.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2 (2013) Review

Time: 124 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Explicit material & content that may disturb.
Cast:
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe (ages 35–50)
Stacy Martin as young Joe (ages 15–31)
Stellan Skarsgård as Seligman
Shia LaBeouf as Jerôme Morris
Christian Slater as Joe’s father
Jamie Bell as K
Willem Dafoe as L
Mia Goth as P
Michaël Pas as Older Jerôme
Jean-Marc Barr as the Debtor Gentleman
Udo Kier as The Waiter
Director: Lars von Trier

The continuation of Joe’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sexually dictated life delves into the darker aspects of her adulthood, obsessions and what led to her being in Seligman’s (Stellan Skarsgard) care.

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I’m assuming that if you’re reading this review, you’ve already read my review of Lars von Trier’s divisive Nymphomaniac Volume 1. While I didn’t love the movie, it was very interesting, with some great performances and von Trier had a very unique style and vision (it was the first film of his that I saw). That was only the first half of the story however, and I heard very different reactions to the second volume. Some said that it was better than the first volume, others says that it was a significant drop in quality. I actually quite liked Nymphomaniac Volume 2, though it is (understandably) less enjoyable than the first volume, and the rather obnoxiously forcibly bleak ending really took away from both movies.

Long story short, if you didn’t like Volume 1 at all (as in was disturbed by it or found it to be absolutely horrible as a movie), Volume 2 isn’t going to be that big of a difference for you, whether you like or dislike it more. Otherwise, if there was something that you liked or were interested in with Volume 1, you’re pretty much going to need to watch the second volume. I do recommend reading my review of Volume 1 as there are some similar things between the two volumes and I don’t want to repeat myself too much. I’ll do my best to mostly talk about the new parts and differences between the two. Volume 2 is as long as Volume 1 at around 2 hours, despite this, instead of being split up into 5 chapters, it is split up into 3 chapters. It really does feel like the second part of the story, there’s not opening credits or anything like that, it goes straight into the rest of the story. There are clear differences between the two volumes and you can tell why Nymphomaniac is split at this particular point. Volume 2 is much darker, while the first volume had spots of dark comedy, the second volume has just specks of dark comedy. While the main character of Joe had many sexual experiences seemingly without any consequences in the first part of the story, without spoiling anything, let’s just say that things just go extremely bad for her in the second part. For example, at the end of Volume 1, Joe is numb from sex, which is particularly significant to her given that she’s a sex addict (or nymphomaniac as she self proclaims to be). So she has to find extreme methods of reigniting her sexuality. While Volume 1 at many points could be hard to watch, this second volume is much more so. In that it’s a less enjoyable experience, but I can’t exactly fault the movie for that. Once again it doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily done for shock value (though knowing Lars von Trier, that probably did play a part in some of the things that happen), it feels honest for the story that’s being told. There are parts that do feel more riveting than the first volume, but it is quite possible that this is because it has less chapters than the first volume or that it is darker. Despite this, enjoyment wise I preferred Volume 1 much more. The conversations between Joe and Seligman are once again interesting and one of the best parts of the Nymphomaniac movies, though once again they could be a little self indulgent (for lack of a better term to use while avoiding the term ‘pretentious’), though they don’t go to absurd levels like the first volume could be at times. Then there’s the ending which has divided a lot of people. Now I knew the ending a long time before going in and I hated the ending already. I did hear about people’s defence of the ending and I kept that in mind while watching both movies, and it still didn’t work for me after watching it. I won’t spoil what it is, but basically it involves one of the two main characters in present day (played by Gainsbourg and Skarsgard) doing something incredibly out of character. While it may have been meant to be a twist, it feels really forced. There’s nothing even small during the movie leading up to the end that hints towards it happening at all, just because people won’t expect a twist to happen doesn’t make it good. This also affects one of the best parts of the movie(s), the conversations between the two characters, instead of making you see them in a different light, it just makes them feel confused and it doesn’t really work or make sense. As a result it all just feels like a cheap way for Lars von Trier to make one of his typically depressing endings. While apparently he has many of these types of endings, I’m sure that they aren’t this lazily bleak. The ending is more than just underwhelming and disappointing, it’s infuriating and does notably detract from the overall film. I’ll just say that if the film ended with some random character we’ve never seen before appearing out of nowhere and killed both characters, it would feel less frustrating. Then again you might actually like the ending, some actually do.

The acting all around is great once again. Charlotte Gainsbourg was fantastic, this time she’s much more front and centre to what was going on. In Volume 1 she was very present throughout, but only in her scenes when she’s telling her stories. Here’s she’s actually present in the flashbacks and being present throughout most of them. She has to go through a lot, both physically and emotionally. Joe’s story in the first volume wasn’t particularly light but the second volume is especially dark. I’ve not seen much from Gainsbourg in terms of acting but from Nymphomaniac she has really shown herself to be an excellent actress. The scenes with Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard in the present day are great as well and their conversations are really one of the more interesting parts of the Nymphomaniac story, especially how they played off each other with how different they are with regards to their outlook on life and all that. Stacy Martin is once again great as the younger Joe, despite her pretty much being the lead in Volume 1 though, in Volume 2 she’s not in the movie as much, given that in this point in Joe’s telling of the story she’s like in her mid 30s. Shia LaBeouf and some of the other actors return to their roles, once again they are really good and served their purposes well but really they are supporting players. There are mainly 3 newer actors added into the second part of Nymphomaniac. Willem Dafoe at one point is in the movie playing Joe’s boss, he doesn’t really get a lot of screentime but Dafoe brings a lot to whatever role he’s in and here it’s no exception. Jamie Bell plays a sadist who Joe comes in contact with in order to somewhat rehabilitate her sexuality. This is a role that Bell hasn’t really taken on before or since and he is suitably unnerving and violent, really great performance. Mia Goth is the other addition to the story later on, as Joe’s accomplice. This was really one of her first performances and she was really great in her role whenever she was on screen. It seemed like plenty of people were also impressed with her performance, seeing that she would go on to deliver more great performances in A Cure for Wellness, Suspiria and other movies.

Lars von Trier’s direction once again is impressive, with the cinematography being really stunning and direction-wise, a lot of impressive things being done. Regardless of how you feel about the story and all the things that happen, it’s clear watching this that he knows his way behind the camera. The sexual parts to everything is once again graphic and uncomfortable. This time there aren’t as many sex scenes, the sexual aspect of it is border more on fetishism, but again it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to titillate the audience, the sexual acts aren’t pornographic at all, they are actually more disturbing and even darker this time around. Despite some of my issues with Nymphomaniac, it didn’t feel exploitive. Volume 2 is arguably more uncomfortable in general, but that’s mainly because of the story. A weird thing I noticed that differed from the first volume is the lack of drawings, numbers and words that would sometimes appear on screen. Not that it was the glue holding everything together (the diagram of Joe parking a car certainly wasn’t the peak moment of Volume 1), it’s just something I noticed. Also to the second volume’s credit, it doesn’t make random directing decisions, like how it had one chapter with a smaller frame, and another chapter in completely black and white, it actually feels consistent throughout the movie.

Nymphomaniac Volume 2 mostly succeeds in telling the rest of the story. It is harder to watch, darker and more uncomfortable, however that seemed to work for the story. As I said and detailed earlier though, the ending really didn’t just disappoint, it really worked against and detracted a lot from the movie. So even aside from the fact that Volume 1 is more enjoyable to watch, Volume 2 ends with a horrible taste in the mouth, and not the good kind, thus making it not as good as the first part of the story. All in all, I understand why it was split into two parts, the first volume of the story was rather overwhelming and there was a lot of story to cover from what I’ve seen (haven’t seen the director’s cut). However, I think it still would’ve been possible to cut down some things from both volumes and release Nymphomaniac as one 3 hour long movie (or even 3 hours and a half). Nymphomaniac isn’t a movie I want to rewatch ever again and I don’t know if I can ever recommend it, but I guess the best thing I can say is that if my reviews of it made you the least bit interested in it, go check it out and hopefully you’ll get something out of it.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 (2013) Review

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Explicit material & content that may disturb.
Cast:
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe (ages 35–50)
Stacy Martin as young Joe (ages 15–31)
Stellan Skarsgård as Seligman
Shia LaBeouf as Jerôme Morris
Christian Slater as Joe’s father
Uma Thurman as Mrs. H
Sophie Kennedy Clark as B
Connie Nielsen as Katherine (Joe’s mother)
Udo Kier as The Waiter
Director: Lars von Trier

A man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds a fainted wounded woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in an alley and he brings her home. She tells him that her name is Joe and that she is nymphomaniac. Joe tells her life and sexual experiences with hundreds of men since she was a young teenager while Seligman tells about his hobbies, such as fly fishing, reading about Fibonacci numbers or listening to organ music.

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I’ve heard a lot about Lars von Trier, he’s one of the most controversial directors working today. Yet I hadn’t gotten around to watching any of his movies until now. I didn’t really know where the best place to start with him would be (given that his movies are disturbing, depressing, or both), so I just watched the movie I could easily access, Nymphomaniac. I had heard all about Nymphomaniac for a while, with some very polarised reactions to it, some loved it, others not so much.
Having watched the first half of it, while I’m not one of the people who loved it, I actually did like it quite a bit and there’s a lot of great things to it.

I want to preface this review by saying that I saw the movie on Netflix and at the beginning it said that the film I was going to watch is an abridged and ‘censored’ version. So it’s possible that the version I saw won’t be the version that you might see. Nymphomaniac Volume 1 is a slow moving arthouse movie that happens to be about sex. This movie is really conversations between Charlotte Gainsbourg telling her story to Stellan Skarsgard and we see flashbacks of that happening. It’s mainly broken up into 5 chapters (at least for the first half of the story). These conversations are really interesting, especially as Gainsbourg and Skarsgard are very different people and have different perspectives on what happened, definitely one of the highlights of the film. It was interesting to listen to their conversations. Quite often there are a lot of comparisons from objects to things that happened in Joe’s life, an example being a comparison between fly fishing and sex. I get that a lot of people found some bits of the discussions and the comparisons pretentious (and it is), and to be fair they go a little too ridiculous with it sometimes. With that said, I think a lot of these bits are intentionally ridiculous and add quite a bit of humour. Actually there are surprisingly quite a lot of effective comedic moments in the movie, which does lighten up things a bit. It really needed them, because it is a really uncomfortable and bleak movie, even when watching it by yourself (I would know). It does feel a tad repetitive in some of the things that happen but it’s not like the same things happening every time, with every chapter we learn something new about Joe. I will say that I didn’t really feel any emotion throughout this movie. It is a rather cold movie, and on the whole the most emotion I felt was uncomfortableness at certain moments. Now I was still interested in the movie despite this, but it’s not really a movie where you get emotionally invested or anything like that. Now this is a review of essentially half the story, and as of this point I haven’t watched Volume 2, so I can’t tell yet how the whole complete story works just yet.

There are a lot of actors in this movie and they do a great job in their roles. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the lead character of Joe, we really just see her as she’s talking to Stellan Skarsgard’s character of Seligman and have a lot of conversations, both Gainsbourg and Skarsgard are great. In the flashbacks, the younger version of Joe is played by Stacy Martin, who does a fantastic job, in this volume, Martin really gets the lead in the movie. She has to do a lot of things, it’s a very challenging role and she absolutely nails it. Shia LaBeouf is also quite good in his (small) role here, though his English accent is a little hit or miss. We also have Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as Joe’s parents, good in their limited screentime. We also get a bit of Uma Thurman in one chapter, also great. Really everyone did a good job in their roles.

I’ve only seen one movie from Lars von Trier now, but I can tell from his work on Nymphomaniac Volume 1 that he’s great at his craft. As this is a movie called Nymphomaniac, surrounding a sex addict, you can tell that there is a lot of sex shown on screen. However it actually isn’t exploitive or pornographic. It is basically as graphic as porn as you see pretty much everything, though apparently no actual sex was performed and there was a lot of body doubles, prosthetics and CGI face swapping involved. However it’s not particularly sexy, it doesn’t glamourize it at all, just portraying the sexual acts on screen with honesty to the story. It treated it much like how the movie Shame treated it (another movie about a sex addict), the sex actually has a point. As I said earlier, the version of Nymphomaniac I saw was apparently a ‘censored’ version, so I’m guessing there’s another version that’s much more graphic than this. There was some interesting editing choices made, with some scenes cutting to things like animals, and this mostly worked for me. This film would also have some visuals shown on screen, with words, numbers and shapes actually being drawn on screen during scenes (which surprised me). As much as I mostly loved Lars von Trier’s direction, there were some odd choices made that were out of place. For example, in chapter 3, the framing of the screen was much smaller compared to the rest of the movie, and I don’t really know why. Then in another chapter, it switched to black and white. Also the aforementioned visuals being shown on screen can be a little too much and trying too hard. I liked some of these moments, but we didn’t need a diagram to be drawn out showing Joe parking a car or things like that. They didn’t take the movie down a lot but it was a bit distracting.

Nymphomaniac Volume 1 is definitely not for everyone. It is a difficult to watch, slow moving arthouse movie about a sex addict. If you’re not immediately turned off by this concept and are interested in it based on my thoughts on the film, maybe you should check it out. However, it worked for me, The direction was mostly fantastic, the cast was great, and it was an effective story. With all that being said, this is only the first half of the movie, as of this moment writing this review I’ve just watched Volume 1 (and by the time I uploaded this review I would’ve watched Volume 2), so my view on part 1 could change depending on how the second part goes. It’s made me interested to watch the second half of the story, as well as von Trier’s other movies. Again though, I’ll probably need to watch Volume 2 before coming to a proper conclusion to the overall story.