NYMPH()MANIAC (2014, Lars von Trier)
And to think, there were actually charges that Steve McQueen wasn’t subtle enough with SHAME. NYMPH()MANIAC makes SHAME look like Rohmer. Content to both flatter and condescend to his audiences equally, Lars von Trier has a ball being as hammeringly obvious and on-the-nose here as possible. We’re used to rancid pretentiousness in films like ANTICHRIST (remember the fox who actually says “Chaos reigns?”), and even in Trier’s best films like DOGVILLE and MELANCHOLIA there’s a strain of didacticism. But now, Trier wants to spend four hours of our time giving us opportunities to pat ourselves on the back (for noticing the reference to the opening of ANTICHRIST) and make sure we get his points (3+5… OH YEAH! Thanks for splattering those numbers on the screen again; I might not have figured it out). At least the nadir of this happens early (“I like fishing and you like fucking, so when you are out searching for guys, it’s kind of like you were fishing; and when you found one, th- CUT TO fisherman reeling in his line!), but it’s still laughable how brazen the contempt is.
Hidden in Trier’s back pocket is a valuable playing card: any time the movie veers into risibility, he can claim intent. “This thing is a black comedy! I mean to make that funny, and I’m answering my critics! So if you’re criticizing it, you’re the joke!” But how can he defend his own failure to address humanity? From BREAKING THE WAVES to DANCER IN THE DARK to DOGVILLE, Trier has been the world’s champion at depicting female suffering, but when the female here is a bogus conceit set up to fit into the mathematical scheme of a contrived story, there is no chance at making that suffering appear plausible, empathetic, or insightful. And as for its “edgy” content, it plays like the dirty old man version of graphic — where sex is a ghastly exercise that never leads to anything good. Unless you think jamming 11 spoons up your vagina is hot.
Sure enough, when the film is funny it’s pretty funny. But when it gets serious, it’s dreadful. Surprisingly, Shia LaBeouf (barely passable British accent aside) turns in a fine performance as young Jerome, and Uma Thurman makes the most of a shakily written scene of histrionics. Charlotte Gainsbourg owns the movie though, and it’s sad to see yet another strong lead performance wasted on a turd of a provocation. She has to take over the Joe reins from Stacy Martin, and both women are good, but the film suffers some continuity in the switch. Even weirder, for his final appearance, Jerome stops being played by LaBeouf and becomes Michael Pas. Any emotional power his brutal conclusion is supposed to have gets dampened by the fact that we’ve never seen this guy before and have to imagine LaBeouf doing it. I don’t know if Trier thinks he’s Bunuel or Bergman, but he can’t pull off the doubling trick with actors. And then there’s Stellan Skarsgard, playing a ludicrous character who gets comeuppance for delivering the worst mansplanation in the history of mansplaining (and a bit of self-flagellation from Trier, I think). I don’t even know what to say about him, but he gets to deliver the film’s most revealing line: “Sometimes the text can be so empty; so unfathomably empty!”