Dir. Lars Von Triers. Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, U.K. 2014.

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The poster art belies this film: the image of the key players in the film in the throes of orgasmic ecstasy is the essence of the blog 'Beautiful Agony' where thousands of people have sent in their own faces in this condition. A lot of the film is derivative - even from Lars' previous works, with one direct reference made to Antichrist. A film literate reviewer, not necessarily feminist is going to find this the worst element of Lar's latest . The fact that so, so much of it has been snatched from other works in theme and idea is ludicrously transparent.

Lars is a divisive creature; folk either love or hate him, calling him at worst misogynist, at best, a prankster with sociopathic tendencies. True enough his work is challenging and he is a bit of a thorn in the side for feminists. This film is likely to grate, though on initial, superficial viewing it would appear to have a wanton, regretless nympho at the heart of the film(s), a living breathing  manifestation of Germaine Greer's notion that women should see themselves as vagina suction, not as depositaries with the ability to have as many men as we want.

The scene, retold in retrospect of our heroine with friend having a shagging competition on a train for a bag of sweets as prize half way works, but by the time women become this sexually complicit in their pleasure seeking, sweeties and their acquisition dies down as an ambition. Though Lars probably wants to shock us presenting a barely mature woman being this promiscuous.  The loss of virginity was truthful in its discomfort - all virgin loss stories from girls are messy and awful, but this one really takes the biscuit with both orifice of the 15 year old girl being violated by a much older less than pleasant Englishman. Fifteen is not a shocking age to lose virginity - and lest we forget the amount of virginities lost in fairgrounds in English culture to travelling gypsies. Joe's scenario seems polite in comparison. The fact that the penetration of both come to five times and that this figure has a significance in fly fishing is one of the many, many ridiculous analogies presented in this double feature: it isn't the life of a promiscuous woman that is the problem, it is the fact that this is hardly ever put across as empowering, feasible or enjoyable is the problem. There is also no rape, menstruation or gang banging which is true of a lot of better films that show sexual mores and the abuse thereof.

The opening sequence itself defies understanding. A lone figure - that of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) roams around a complex of brick worked alleys and a damaged and bruised Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lies abandoned in the cold. There is no-one around despite this being set in London, and Seligman takes her in, again despite this being London.  They begin her retrospective life story, as she unfolds the reasoning behind her sense of worthlessness. Then the long string of implausibility commences and doesn't finish until the final credits roll at the end of NVolII.

Women, according to LVT, find out about their sexuality (by this they discover they/we have a clitoris) and then pretend to be frogs so that there is an excuse to rub ourselves against a hard bathroom floor. Masturbation and women has been mercifully covered in the excellent book by Caitlin Moran 'How To Be a Woman' which was gratefully received by womankind all over in its revelation that women wank and often. LVT should have read this book before even sitting down to write this nonsense. The film largely implies that the possession of this particular organ (as he did in Antichrist) is not derived as the seat of pleasure that it is but the source of trouble in one form or another. This is film maker perversion of sexual truth - what he thinks women who want and like sex do and feel.

There is a fair amount of the S&M element covered far better in the excellent Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal, where the need for subversion in sex has a resonance and depth here completely void of context. The pontifications between love and lust reach no conclusions, the film implies that the only man this unfortunate woman loved was her father, but has him down as an alcoholic: despite the closeness between father and daughter her damage is inevitable and the self-loathing, deliberate and relentless. The clip alluding to the start of a club called Maximus Vulva is evidently straight from 'Fight Club' and had this film covered women coming into work after having a night before spent vagina wrestling - it would have been far more entertaining. The redeeming feature in the first volume is the star turn by Uma Thurman as a woman scorned - reminiscent of the role of Yvonne Mitchel in Woman in a Dressing Gown where the mistress is confronted with home truths about the man she is about to steal away. Christian Slater as the father of mad protagonist is simply a joy to listen to and look at. Having been brought out of the woodwork for this and Antony Hopkin's Slipstream is now making his mark as Art House player after a career in 1980s key marginal.

Volume II of Nymphomaniac delves even deeper into the realm of nonsensical silliness when Joe now frequents some kind of subversive S&M club for bored housewives and Jamie bell ( Billy Elliott) provides some rather dubious back end entertainment to completely ruin our memories of him dancing innocently with Julie Walters. From the actor perspective this makes sense, but is not an easy watch. Shia Lebouf is not strong enough as character or as man for our gal, not surprising as the man is probably one of the weakest actors of his generation and a bad choice for this role. Her child does not suffer the same fate as the toddler in Antichrist, thankfully. In the world of LVT, sex as so consumptive diversion can have us abandon all responsibility and sensibility. The interesting trop into lesbianism fails for our heroine but not before needing to subject two African men into a sex act which is both amusingly ridiculous and unintentionally comedic.  The top notch notion of sheer lunacy however is the prospect of a first female orgasm being an out of body experience with the image of Messilina (the whore wife of Claudius). In truth there is nothing mysterious about the female orgasm, it is just extremely pleasurable and having one is bound to bring about the will to have more.

Nymphomaniac - in both volumes seek to be extreme, controversial and thought provoking, but we have seen all of this before and in better styles with more confidence. The ending is very Gasper Noe, but without being the eternal talking point of Irreversible. The female sexual odyssey POV as regards the main protagonist is the territory of Catherine Breillat in Anatomy of Hell and Romance - two truly well developed and thought provoking films that live long in the memory and are stand out Art House features. There is nowhere near the earth shattering emotional torment that goes with watching Breaking the Waves - nor does NVI&II deliver as divinely conceived a product as Dogville, Lar's best feature to date. What it does is give anyone who wants it the endless chance to see the naked and uninteresting body of Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Gail Spencer

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