Nymph (O) maniac Volume 2 = (0)

By Moira Sullivan
Lars von Trier: rebel without a cause

I reported on Nymph (O) maniac Volume 1 by Lars Von Trier last week and will now review 'Volume 2' of this project by the Danish director who has brought talented actors such as Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell to the table. The second part of the film opens this weekend at the Landmark Theaters in San Francisco.

To be in a von Trier film has its rewards and virtues. It is usually a fast lane to Cannes, and to international attention in the film market.What you should know about both volumes is that von Trier doesn't really know what a nymphomaniac is. As Seligman (SkarsgĂ„rd), says to Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), "you’ve had sex with hundreds of men - why would one more make a difference" as he attempts to force himself on her. Joe is a woman making a confession of her deeds through the years to this supposedly insightful and sympathetic man. The entire time we are made to believe that there is an engaging relationship with the two only to find out that Seligman’s motives are dishonest and abusive. Joe’s introspection is told through the years to us, just as Seligman, and in the end von Trier doesn’t care  if we understand it or not. To understand or misunderstand is the provocation; von Trier makes sure that all illusions are smashed, like a clapboard wrapping up a scene.

von Trier’s film is the construction of a character who has had sex with hundreds of men and is labeled a nymphomaniac. The director bragged about making this film in Cannes when he brought ‘Melancholia ‘to the festival and as he said, "there will be lots of sex", clearly thrilled with his originality.

Women who have repetitive meaningless sex often reveal that they were incest survivors. The case can be made that Joe is one too. She has a strangely close relationship with her father, played by Christian Slater, who dies when she is a teenager.  There are frequent shots of them in the forest away from  town. Her mother despises her for some reason, and it can be claimed because of the affection they have for one another.

von Trier uses sex as a choreographic act, a tactile pageant that commands attention. He throws in Jamie Bell who sadistically assaults Joe, with her permission, as it is her fault, her 'sins', bearing the sins of her father(s) (Slater and von Trier). Along with the other tortured women of his films, such as Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Bjork in Dancing in the Dark, Nicole Kidman in Dogville, and Gainsbourg in Antichrist, Gainsbourgh serves the same function.  She has the job of becoming as malleable as a piece of clay for the purposes of von Trier putting his imprint on her. She functions as a canvas, with dull dialogue that is as uninventive as it is unrevealing - a woman who is positioned by the director into as many sexual encounters as possible. 

Nymphomania is a designation used to describe women, but in this film Gainsbourgh’s character is subjected to countless assaults by the director, rather than the characters she interacts with. The men are equally used in this staging of sexual abuse as is the spectator.  

Lars von Trier added von to his name in his 20s, which is a designation of nobility. No matter how many additions he makes to his name , he can only claim one success in this films: his choice of actors or crew, in this case the cinematographer, the Chilean Manuel Alberto Claro, who otherwise would have created a rich and lustrous tapestry, had there been an entirely different story. To call Lars von Trier a 'provocateur' is unwarranted in the absence of any meaningful cause for him to champion. 

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