Lars von Trier's Nymph()maniac
Nymph()maniac: Vol. 1 (March 18/14)
Given the ineffectiveness of such recent Lars von Trier efforts as Dogville, Antichrist, and Manderlay, Nymph()maniac: Vol. 1 can't help but come off as a comparatively (and refreshingly) mainstream endeavor that fares much, much better than one might've anticipated - although it's ultimately clear that both Nymph()maniac: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 could (and should) have been compressed into one streamlined film (ie von Trier isn't, despite his best efforts, able to keep things interesting for the cumulative running time of over four hours). The movie, which follows Charlotte Gainsbourg's Joe as she relates her sexual history to Stellan Skarsgård's Seligman, unfolds at a deliberate pace that is, while expected, a consistent hindrance to the viewer's enjoyment, as von Trier suffuses the thin narrative with sequences of an overlong and often entirely needless variety - with the episodic narrative, as a result, ultimately pushed well past its breaking point. It's a shame, really, given that von Trier offers up a number of impressively engrossing scenes, including Joe's (Stacy Martin, playing the character's younger self) escapades aboard a busy train and an over-the-top confrontation between Joe and the wife (Uma Thurman) of a random conquest (asks Thurman's unnamed figure, "would it be alright if I show the children the whoring bed?") Von Trier's inability to rein himself in, then, finally paves the way for Nymph()maniac: Vol. 1's downfall, as there reaches a point at which the movie's entertaining moments are outweighed by stretches of sheer tedium (eg a lengthy black-and-white flashback into Joe's relationship with her dying father). By the time the abrupt conclusion rolls around - the movie doesn't end as much as it just sort of fades out - Nymph()maniac: Vol. 1 has established itself as a typically erratic and off-the-wall endeavor from a filmmaker that continues to show a palpable disdain for his audience.
Nymph()maniac: Vol. 2 (March 18/14)
There's little doubt that Nymph()maniac: Vol. 2 stands as a slight improvement over its immediate predecessor, as the film doesn't feel quite as erratic and slapdash as Vol. 1 and instead boasts a much more propulsive vibe - with the narrative, for the most part, following Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she attempts to solve a very disturbing problem. Though the film still unfolds mainly in flashback, with Joe telling Stellan Skarsgård's Seligman various stories of her past, Nymph()maniac: Vol. 2 has been outfitted with a series of captivating segments that ensure it moves at a faster pace than the first installment (which is no small feat, certainly, given that the movie runs about 20 minutes longer). Ranking high on the picture's list of compelling elements is Jamie Bell's turn as a polite, methodical, and seriously sadistic masochist named K, with the effectiveness of Joe and K's encounters drawing the viewer into the proceedings and cultivating an intriguing and engrossing atmosphere that's otherwise been absent from this series. (There is, likewise, a very strong sequence near the end of the movie detailing Joe's encounter with a repressed pedophile.) As was the case with Vol. 1, however, Nymph()maniac: Vol. 2's palpable overlength becomes more and more problematic as time (slowly) progresses - with filmmaker Lars von Trier's self-indulgent sensibilities wreaking havoc on the movie's momentum and paving the way for a second half that's rife with gratuitous, padded-out sequences. (The film does, at the very least, conclude on a memorable note.) The end result is a passable yet disappointing effort from von Trier, with the movie's mild success ultimately ensuring that it remains a cut above the majority of his output (ie this is a masterpiece compared to, say, Melancholia).