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FILMS Denmark

Review: Nymphomaniac: Volume II

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- Lars von Trier tries to balance quantity and quality with the second volume of his copious diptych, which, although it does not fulfil all the promises of the first part, still remains a singular work in the world’s audiovisual landscape...

Review: Nymphomaniac: Volume II
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell in Nymphomaniac: Volume II

We had left Joe (Stacy Martin) in full sensory depravation at the end of Nymphomaniac: Volume I [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Louise Vesth
film profile
]
 (read the review) at the conclusion of a skilful demonstration of the concept of sexual polyphony. Thanks to a formidable editing game mixing split screens, documentary images from the animal world and a careful study of one of Bach’s polyphonic preludes, Lars von Trier gave an encouraging consistency to what resembled until then a comico-intellectual imbroglio around the sulphurous theme of nymphomania. With such big moments rubbing shoulders with smaller ones, many spectators preferred to reserve their appreciation of this first volume due to the “magical” dimension that Nymphomaniac: Volume II [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
was supposed to bring. After all, even Seligman himself (Stellan Skarsgård) ended up expressing doubts as to the veracity of his guest’s account (Charlotte Gainsbourg), built around improbable coincidences and evident opportunistic parallels...  

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When we meet Joe’s character again in part 2, it is mostly played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and the passing of the torch between the two actresses sadly remains more arbitrary than positively enigmatic. Immediately, the first hope of finding some justification to the prolonged use of two actresses for a unique role vanishes. Later, it’s Jérôme who undergoes an even more artificial mutation when American actor Shia LaBeouf gives up the more mature role in favour of Flemish actor Michael Pas. Good make-up would have better intensified the rapport of the audience to the character who, in this version, only shows his new face in two scenes...

Volume II is dedicated to the quest for oneself and parallels between the travels of the director and those of his nymphomaniac are all over the place. Joe is both looking for her lost pleasure and a meaning to her pathology. The time gaps between the flashbacks and the moment when Seligman finds her inanimate body become smaller and are finally reconciled in this damp dead-end alley – one of the film’s many lewd metaphors – which also turns out to be one of the film’s most intense scenes and also probably one of the most violent ones. No more chapters then, and between two digressions, Seligman takes the opportunity to tell us a bit more about himself: “there is nothing sexual about me”, he confesses, since he compares the concept of sex to that of religion, “these are interesting concepts, but I do not adhere to one nor the other.”  

Nymphomaniac: Volume II is like a funambulist who despite it all still accomplishes marvels, but who does not cease to get back on the rope after falling to one side or the other. Thus von Trier revisits his filmography, sometimes in a very intelligent way when he points to his Dogme years (“mea maxima vulva”) or at other times in a very heavy way when he steps into Antichrist [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lars von Trier
film profile
]
again, tarnishing a certainly inhibited work but decidedly too vulgar for a film of this calibre announced with so much anticipation. While Von Trier has fun with his cinema, the spectator hits the wall of a fragile screenplay to which the rope of the funambulist is hardly tied. Incoherencies add up one after the other (the burning car? Jérôme’s fortuitous reappearances? the mafia reconversion, Dogville [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
-style?) and the climax is not exactly in the right place as if, through editing and forced butchering, the film’s gravity centre had shifted, rendering the end nearly more anecdotal than cynical.  

If Lars von Trier was really satisfied with his 7h30 version (reduced to 5h30 and then to twice two hours), there was no shame is turning towards a more appropriate medium for his material such as a mini-series with which he had brilliantly experimented 20 years ago (The Kingdom). After all, if Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II demonstrate any thing, it is that the Danish director is not opposed to flashbacks...

(Translated from French)

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