After watching this film, I thought of a comparison that might not even be that concrete, but I’m running with it anyway. Lars Von Trier and Rick Ross are incredibly similar. Both have almost hilariously large egos that you almost admire as much you hate. Both create pieces of work that while have a stellar amount of production value to them, but that are all so bombastically noisy that ultimately any chance of something with thematic or cinematic lasting is lost. Both are so caught up in their absence of subtlety that anytime I engage with one’s work, I find myself so tired by the end of it all that I lay down to take a nap. Again, there’s probably a better director/rapper comparison out there to come up with, but this is what I’ve got.
The plot of the first half of (already dreading watching it) 2 films, revolves around Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-proclaimed Nymphomaniac who is found beaten in an alley and taken in by an elderly gentleman Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). She begins to recount her entire life of sexual encounters to him, or should I say only the first half of that life.
While the performances from Gainsbourg, Skarsgard and Stacy Martin as the younger version of Joe are serviceable, the rest of the performances are almost laughable. Shia Labeouf does a painfully and transparently fake British accent, and Uma Thurman provides intensity in her single scene but it feels comically out of place from the rest of the film and not in a way that would compliment the film. Christian Slater plays Joe’s father, and is later seen dying in a hospital. He frequently has quasi-seizures in a sequence of the film that feels like it’s meant to be tragedy, yet plays more like comedy as he overacts his dying character.
I guess the only compliment I can really give this film is that it is without a doubt a film only Von Trier would have made. Only he would find the effort to make not only 1, but 2 full-length films all about showing explicit sex. He makes attempts throughout with Seligman’s fishing comparisons to make this whole tale seem much more philosophical, but those elaborations don’t have anything substantial within the film to land on.
The whole movie is just one big opportunity for Von Trier to inflate his ego as a provocateur, and the fact that there is another one of these further evidences that. I will be watching Volume 2 to be a completionist, but I’m not looking forward to it.