The films of writer/director Lars von Trier are typically not the type of films you'd see in every local Cineplex. After all, not every theater is comfortable putting a title like Nymphomaniac up on its marquee.
Nymphomaniac is a tough sell in more ways than one. The first reason being that it's actually two films. Magnolia is giving each one a stand-alone Blu-ray release. However, good performances and the need to satisfy your curiosity will make the combo release of Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II the better buy.
The title and total length (four hours!) of this two-disc release may limit its audience. However, despite all of the imagery one would expect to accompany a film titled Nymphomaniac, this is far from a sexy romp. It's actually part of the director's "Depression Trilogy," which includes 2009's Antichrist and 2011's Melancholia. In case you haven't seen either film, the trilogy's unofficial title should clue you in that this is going to be a disturbing, sad story. It's also a fascinating one, to some extent.
Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells her lengthy tale in "Nymphomaniac Volume I and Volume II." Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Christian Geisnaes.
After making the viewer wait in the dark (literally) for the first 103 seconds, Volume I opens with a little Rammstein and a dark alley -- the one where Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has been left to rot. She's quickly found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who takes her back to his apartment. There, he learns of her life as a nymphomaniac, which he relates to fly-fishing. Um, ok. It's a metaphor, but one that doesn't really matter because it doesn't last for the length of the movie. Besides, this is really about Joe, her depression, and her ability (or inability) to love. The film is broken up into several sections, where we are introduced to her parents (Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen), her first lover (Shia LaBeouf with an accent), and her various misadventures.
It's important to note that the bulk of the film has newcomer Stacy Martin playing young Joe and she is quite wonderful. However, Slater and Uma Thurman put in some of their best work here, even though each one's appearance is brief. Both are just downright heart-wrenching. The story is as well, but also has a few darkly comedic moments.
Although Volume I could have stood on its own, von Trier released Volume II as a follow-up with less successful results. To be frank, this is where things got downright weird. Volume II picks up exactly where the last film left off, with Joe continuing her story. Yes, the life of a nymphomaniac may seem weird enough to some viewers, but Joe's visions and inability to feel anything downstairs lead her to motherhood, sadomasochism, lesbianism, and a job in organized crime. If you found the previous three hours difficult to watch, it doesn't get any easier here.
Was Volume II necessary? Probably not. It certainly has its moments and the performances are good, but it's probably going to be a bit too much for most viewers -- and I'm not even talking about all of the nudity. However, if you made it through Volume I, it's hard to resist the second film, especially when there's such a graphic sneak peek in the first one's closing credits. If you disagree and find yourself in need of more Nymphomaniac, know there's also a 5.5-hour director's cut that's supposedly coming soon.
Want a better peek at the better part of this adventure? Check out David Kempler's theatrical review of Nymphomaniac Volume I.
Besides a few black-and-white flashbacks, the colors throughout Volume I are both beautiful and lifelike. Even during those sadder moments, the film has a lot of detail. That is certainly the standout of this release. A lot of that imagery is most noticeable during the nudity, mainly because it's so out there and there's a lot of it. There are also a lot of close-ups on it. However, the snowflakes, facial stubble, strands of hair, and scenery are all very sharp. The second film is a bit grainier and some of the wider angles don't have the same amount of detail, but it's still very lifelike and will have you wincing from some of that vivid detail.
With the exception of Rammstein, Steppenwolf, the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, the Talking Heads, and other portions of the film's soundtrack, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is pretty quiet and very focused on dialogue. There's a rumble of a moped in the first film and some other slight atmospheric sounds, but nothing too lively or memorable.
Despite the content, the most shocking thing about this release is how lame the special features are. Volume I has the film's trailer, a 3-minute promotional short, and something slightly lengthier on "The Characters." It's longer at a whopping 10 minutes, but doesn't really use that time wisely. Instead, the featurette twists up clips from the film with snippets of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin and Shia LaBeouf talking about their respective characters.
Volume II's disc has another trailer and two featurettes. "The Sex" has 7 minutes of Gainsbourg, Martin and Skarsgård talking about the sex in the movie. More specifically, it's about the lack of sex in the movie. Yes, it was all special effects and "porn doubles," people. There's also 9 minutes on "The Director," which doesn't actually feature the director. Instead, Gainsbourg, Martin, Skarsgård and LaBeouf talk up Lars von Trier. Believe it or not, LaBeouf actually offers up the most entertaining comments of the lot.
It's important to know what you're getting into here. With a title like Nymphomaniac, I can't imagine you wouldn't know, but the 4-hour runtime and nudity need a second mention. There's a lot of nudity. I'm not talking about a few full-frontal flashes, either. These are long, lingering close-ups. And that's fine because there are a lot of good moments here, but you may be bored in some of the other moments. It's a really long journey. The special features won't be classified as one of those highlights, but the AV is certainly the best it's going to get. For me, Volume I was better than Volume II. As a lot, it's a bit of a tough sell, but the first half will have you curious enough to make this the one to pick up over one of the stand-alone releases.
Actors: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Connie Nielsen, Michaël Pas, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo KierDirector: Lars von TrierAudio/Languages: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English)Subtitles: English SDH, SpanishAspect Ratio: 2.35:1Number of Discs: 2Rating: NRStudio: MagnoliaBlu-ray Disc Release Date: July 8, 2014Run Time: 240 minutesList Price: $39.98Extras: Nymphomaniac Volume I: The CharactersAXS TV: A Look at NymphomaniacNymphomaniac Volume I TrailerBD LiveNymphomaniac Volume II: The DirectorThe SexNymphomaniac Volume II TrailerBD Live