Lars Von Trier is quite good at getting himself noticed and talked about. The filmmaker who was banned from the Cannes Festival in 2011 for saying he admires Nazis, recently unveiled the poster for “Nymphomaniac,” his third film starring Charlotte Gainsbourg. The French actress plays Joe, a woman who narrates her sexual life from birth until age 50. Shia LeBeouf, Willem Dafoe (“Antichrist”), Jean-Mar Barr and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”) are also a part of the cast of a film which includes unsimulated sex scenes–allegedly.
If you’re anything like me the news of this upcoming new film might stir up a variety of different emotions: hatred, contempt, admiration, anticipation. Von Trier’s profession of love for Nazis was unforgivable. There are some things you never, ever joke about (and I for one took him seriously). But his philosophical opinions notwithstanding, he remains one of the best filmmakers around. And now to the sexual nature of “Nymphomaniac.” I’ve grown quite weary of on-screen sex (simulated or not) because it’s a trope that’s used and abused by filmmakers. Most people can connect the dots upon seeing two people enter a bedroom at night and having breakfast together in the morning. Or a car whose windows get fogged up and bizzarely rocks from left to right (or front to back). Choosing to show long sex scenes might belie a lack of trust by the filmmaker in cinema’s power to elicit and nurture thinking in the viewer. Could the filmmaker be disavowing the artform altogether by showing more than what’s needed? Cinematic images are also about triggering thought and making us intellectually motivated. Less is more.
With “Nymphomaniac” you could argue that the situation is different, the whole narrative is about what goes on about between the sheets. Point well taken. Moreover, Von Trier has never been known for his characters showing a lot of skin, let alone knockin’ boots. Maybe he’ll be better than the others at showing this on film. So in short, I’m already a little annoyed at the thought of having to sit through this: at the same time, if there’s one filmmaker out there who’ll be able to make on-screen sex relevant, dramatic and cinematic it’ll be Von Trier.
MAGNOLIA PICTURES will release “Nymphomaniac” in the U.S. (no release date announced).
(still from the film by Christian Geisnaes)