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Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) laying bruised and battered in a dark alley, and decides to carry her up to his apartment to tend to her wounds. She tells him that she's a bad person and explains why through a series of recollections from her past sexual adventures. As a teenager, Joe (now played by Stacy Martin) and her friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) compete with each other to see who can have sex with the most number of strangers on a train----the winner gets a bag of candy. Who took Joe's virginity? None other than Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), a mechanic who she ends up meeting again 10 or so years later when she applies for a job. He just so happens to be in charge of hiring, and soon she seduces him all over again while she works for him. She has random sex with other guys throughout the years--even an orderly at the hospital that her dying father (Christian Slater). Who caused Joe's current physically injuries and why? Those answers aren't revealed in Volume 1; you'll have to wait until the next volume to find out about that?
Leave it to writer/director Lars Von Trier to weave a story about a nymphomaniac with references to the Fibonacci sequence, finger-nail cutting, classical music, fly-fishing and other tangents that somehow relate back to Joe's nymphomania. Nymphomaniac does have its fair share of graphic sex scenes and, although Joe does discuss her sex life, the film isn't fundamentally about sex; it's about loneliness, emptiness, and the need to feel alive/human. Sex is merely a way that Joe feels alive and less empty inside. Von Trier goes back and forth between the scenes with Seligman and the flashbacks to Joe's sexual adventures. Both the present and past scenes compliment each other quite well---a less talented director would make the transitions between the two awkward, distracting and clunky. Seligman's observations about Joe are quite provocative and surprisingly funny at times although they might seem crazy and random at first, but expect to have few epiphanies once you let some of the observations sink in.
Sigmund Freud would probably love this film tremendously, and the same could be said for anyone who's open-minded and intellectual. Like in his past films, Antichrist, Von Trier trusts the audience's intelligence and doesn't dumb anything down. He's the kind of director that boldly and unflinchingly goes where very few film directors choose to go: into the state of human nature that's primal. Sure, it's dark territory, but it's balanced with a healthy dosage of levity and wit so you're not left with a bad aftertaste. By the time the end credits of Volume 1 roll, you'll be hungry for Nymphomaniac: Volume 2.
58-year-old Gloria (Paulina García), a divorced mother of two
adult children, goes to a singles club where she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a divorced father who also has two adult children. They start to have feelings for each other, date and have sex. He, unlike Gloria, is seven years her
senior, newly divorced and still remains emotionally connected to his his ex-wife and has an unhealthy relationship with his children, though, who are unemployed, live with his ex-wife and rely on him for money. She, unlike Rodolfo, has a boring office job; he owns an amusement park where he introduces her to the game of paintball for the first time. Is their relationship meant to last? Are they both in love with one another? Are Gloria and Rodolfo truly happy, for that
Writer/director Sebastián Lelio provides you with enough character details so that you can come up with different answers
to the questions above. Both Gloria and Rodolfo enter their relationship with some emotional baggage, although Rodolfo seems to have more baggage than she does and handles it less maturely despite that he's older than her. Perhaps suffers from a certain degree of narcissism and uses Gloria as his supply to fill some kind of void. Lelio leaves that up to interpretation, focusing just on Gloria and Rodolfo's interactions. Rodolfo seems nice and sweet, but the more you get to know him, you realize that he's insecure, immature and, perhaps, unctuous. His actions at a dinner party isn't particularly nice, but you can say the same for the way that Gloria treats him from the moment they enter the party. Such complex relationships are very rare to find onscreen, especially with characters over the age of 50. Like a great filmmaker, Lelio finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. The brief moments of comic relief work effectively, and, most importantly, Lelio shows Gloria with pure, unadulterated humanity and warmth while letting you judge her for yourself. She may have changed by the end credits or she may have remained the same person she was before she met Rodolfo---decide that for yourself. Regardless of whether she's likable, unlikable or somewhere in between, she's a very interesting and intelligent woman. If there were more roles for women like Gloria, the film industry would be treating both men and women fairly.
No review of Gloria would be complete without mentioning Paulina García bravura performance in the titular role. She tackles the character's fierceness and fragility convincingly, and isn't afraid to be both emotionally and physically naked. Just by smoking a cigarette and staring at something or someone, she conveys a wide variety of emotions through her facial movements which speak louder than words. In other words, she as the right skills as an actress, and, most likely, depth as a human being, in order to sink her teeth so smoothly into this complex, memorable role. Yes, this is a Chilean film that remains focused on two very specific characters, but its themes are both universal and relatable---if you don't relate to it now, just wait until you reach Gloria and Rodolfo's age. At a running time of 110 minutes, Gloria manages to be warm, wise, sophisticated and deeply human. Paulina García is a revelation. It's the kind of film that will linger in your mind for weeks.