Film Analysis

5 Reasons to Revisit Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2014)

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Almost three years now, the Danish auteur’s film made quite the stir even before it was released. That’s the funny thing with sex; it initiates a reaction when the word is simply spoken out loud. The film, the third and final installment of Von Trier’s depression trilogy, revolves around Joe, a self-confessed Nymphomaniac who tells her story from age 5 till 50 to the seemingly asexual yet extremely intrigued Seligman.

Opening with a Neue Deutsche Härte track from the German band Rammstein, a track almost as wild as the film itself, that preps the viewers for the rollercoaster of a movie they are about to watch. The film opens with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), knocked unconscious in a dirty empty alley. She is found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who takes her to his home offering help and shelter. Joe then recounts the events of her life that led to her discovery in such a vulnerable state, never failing to emphasize on the fact that she is the cause of her own fall, and that she is – in her own words – an evil person. What then follows is a four-hour long epic; that involves sex, violence, and all the human emotions that go in between.

Despite Von Trier’s well established artistic – and even personal – persona as a provocateur, I believe it is safe to say that none of his previous films has garnered the same amount of controversy as Nymphomaniac did. Beginning with the release of the film’s name, and declaring that it would revolve around “a woman who discovers her eroticism”, the director did get some raised eyebrows, since in a world where almost the entire film industry caters to heterosexual male viewers and their fantasies; it is still problematic to make a film completely about female sexuality. As more material began to be released, the controversy, and even the anticipation, began to grow. And though the film got a number of negative reviews that considered it an exploitation piece, or even a misogynist film, I still believe that Von Trier’s message was unorthodox yet feminist at heart, and here is why:

  1. Exploring Female Sexuality

It’s not very often that female sexuality is handled so clearly on screen. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mesmerizingly cold performance generates one of the greatest forces controlling this film. Instead of wallowing in guilt and shame about her sexuality, she seems to have accepted herself, and her dangerous appetite. In a society where slut-shaming is a part of everyday media; seeing a character that not only accepts, but even thrives unapologetically in her sex life is always refreshing.

When Steve McQueen released his drama Shame (2011) it also faced controversy, yet it appeared to be based solely on showing a flaccid male penis on screen. Sadly the case with Nymphomaniac is not only the nudity. A major dilemma remains with the film’s unapologetic approach at exploring the wild sexual adventures of its lead female, her wildness that often causes harm to other people is almost celebrated all throughout the film, after all “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” In her pursue of pleasure, Joe ventures into some much tabooed territory, which brings us to the next point.

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  1. Expanding the Limits of Free Speech on Screen

Some of the major controversy formed around the film was caused by the director’s strong, and sometimes even plain bizarre, political views that are spawn all throughout the film’s dialogue. From postulating as to whether using the word “negro” is politically incorrect or simply society’s way of dealing with an unresolvable problem, to exploring some very distorted views regarding the legitimacy of abortions, the man rarely misses a taboo. I have to admit, though I do not agree with most of Von Trier’s views explored in this dialogue, there is something incredibly fascinating about watching a filmmaker being utterly honest in front of his audience. It reestablishes the role of cinema as an expressive art form not limited by societal taboos or governed by partial laws. On the silver screen, nothing is prohibited, and Von Trier knows this better than anyone.

Although the film got some negative remarks regarding these particular segments of the dialogue, claiming them to be “pseudo-intellectual pauses between the porn”, I find these sequences completely unrelated to intellect. It is social commentary in its barest forms, and it raises some much required speculation about the fundamentals of our society.

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  1. Seeing Past the Pornography

How often do you see a porn film where they compare the number of thrusts during sex to Fibonacci’s numbers? The answer, in case you were wondering, is never. Despite Nymphomaniac’s countless sex scenes, it rarely materializes as sexual or even slightly arousing, as it all seems very methodical, and even though the film shows a continuous effort to wander into some extremely explicit sexual territory, it seems to almost constantly return to its original philosophical ground. The main storyline is the relationship that develops between Joe and Seligman, not the promiscuous innumerable relationships that Joe recounts. Eventually, the viewers will find themselves a part of a highly compelling conversation that explores quite the range of topics, from music, to mathematics, to politics, without ever ceasing to impress, and sometimes even shock, its listener.

The fact that Von Trier used body doubles and CGI for filming the hardcore scenes without having the actors carry out any of the acts themselves blurred the line even further for those who considered Nymphomaniac nothing but porn. But then again how often do you see a porn film that in itself mocks the way society deals with sex?

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  1. Abandoning Romance

Von Trier’s approach to explore the sexual side of humans on screen surpassed the long-held stereotypes of Hollywood; the film simply rids itself of the scented candles and lingerie, and unapologetically aims for the raw human emotion, utterly deconstructing the psychology of each and every one of the characters. Nymphomaniac reaches deep into human relationships, baring the core beliefs of it characters, and entertaining its viewer with equal measures of shock and awe. The film’s promotional line alone was “Forget about Love”, and we truly did for four entire hours. Surprisingly enough, the loveless adventures of Joe turned out to be much more relatable than the superficial and corny romance represented in a major portion of the film industry.

One might learn a lesson or two from “The Little Organ School”, a club formed by a younger Joe and her equally promiscuous friends in their youth. Their main goal was to rebel against “the love fixated society”. Of course it sounds extreme, but it forces its viewer to wonder whether we see the same amount of love represented in the media in the real world? Are humans equally kind and loving to each other as they are devoted to idolizing romantic relationships?

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  1. Challenging the Moral Standards

In the beginning of the film, a very simplistic idea is formed about the characters, one that is based solely on the fundamental moral standards of our society. Joe is the guilty nymphomaniac, Seligman the decent older gentleman, and the rest of the characters complete the spectrum. Whether it’s out of a mischievous urge to frequently prank his viewers, or a genuinely bleak view of the human qualities, Von Trier manages to simply shift the dynamic completely and gradually during the film. At the beginning of the final third of his film, the viewers are suddenly confronted with the fact that Joe, despite her promiscuity, her mischief, and even her illegal business, is in fact the moral warrior of this story. Though offering an enlightening story in film is not exactly the newest of ideas, hundreds of films have done it in the past and hundreds will probably do it in the future, however I believe it is rather rare for any filmmaker to go as far as Nymphomaniac. After all, it requires quite the daring artist to try to convince his audience to sympathize with pedophiles, but then again that’s exactly who Von Trier is.

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In conclusion, Von Tier has always been a demanding director. His films require a certain amount of flexibility and a particularly broad-minded audience. Nymphomaniac is easily his most demanding film so far, yet with the right, unprejudiced, and not easily offended mindset, the film offers a dazzling experience seldom found in films. It is simply a ground breaking piece of cinema whose innovation needs to be, if not appreciated, at least respected.

Film Analysis

My (2017) Watchlist

 Though two months have passed, 2017 seems to still hold a number of great films yet to be released. Of course, January and February have offered some powerful films to kick-start the year, mostly in the Horror/Thriller genre, and despite the fact that 2016 may have raised the bar for the genre with productions like 10 Cloverfield Lane, The VVitch, Under the Shadow, The Neon Demon and a lot more, it appears that 2017 may become an even bigger year for horror fans everywhere. However this list will not be limited to horror movies, as a number of other Drama films successfully grabbed the attention of many cinema goers and managed to land on everyone’s 2017 watch-list.

Raw (2016) opening March 10 to limited release

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 The first full length film for promising French director Julia Ducournau seems to have gained a lot of attention at a number of film festivals, most notably winning The FIPRESCI Award at Cannes film festival and The Sutherland Award at London film festival. The film which has been widely praised for its visual style revolves around a young vegetarian forced to eat raw meat as part of an acceptance ritual at school, however her taste for meat takes dangerous cannibalistic measures.

 I wouldn’t be surprised if Ducournau opts for exploitative elements from the new French extremity, especially when it comes to the visceral and sexual aspects of the story. Accordingly, it’s certainly expected that the film will garner some negative reviews from the more sensitive members of the audience. Still, Raw proclaims itself as an original and captivating horror story that will hopefully add to the genre.


The Bad Batch (2016) opening 23 June

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 The second feature length film for Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour, the first being the critically acclaimed, and a personal favorite, A girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). Her latest film, starring Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and Keanu Reeves, also deals with cannibalistic themes.

 Set in a dystopian future, the film follows Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), as she navigates her way through the Texas wasteland, dealing with the remaining bizarre collection of humans in it. Retaining the avant-garde style of the director, the film appears to contain elements from her first feature, only on a bigger scale (and budget for that matter!). If the film is half as good as the director’s first, then it’s a triumph already.


The Transfiguration (2016) opening 7 April to limited release

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 This Indie vampire movie revolves around Milo, a young boy fascinated with vampires. His friendship with a young girl, Sophie, alters his psyche as he begins to confuse the line between fantasy and reality. The Transfiguration seems like an interesting psychological thriller, with some supernatural elements thrown in. As a fan of vampire movies, watching a film that elevates its product from a generic pile of CGI, to an intriguing character study that actually explores the human mind would be a pleasant and very welcome surprise.


Berlin Syndrome (2017) opening 20 April

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 The latest film from critically acclaimed Australian director Cate Shortland, Berlin Syndrome (2017), is a drama/thriller about a young Australian photojournalist (Theresa Palmer) visiting Berlin, whose romance with a local guy (Max Reimelt) turns terribly wrong when he locks her up in his apartment seemingly indefinitely.

 Shortland’s work constantly explores the female psychology of its characters, her earlier work Somersault (2004), and Lore (2012) are two excellent examples of her creative capacities. Her latest film seems to be no different. Exploring the themes of obsessive love has been expressed in many films now, yet it is often a crazy female character that appears obsessed. Shortland is definitely not afraid of shifting the dynamics and hopefully her film will be as courageous as she is.


 The Beguiled (2017) opening 30 June

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 Sofia Coppola’s latest film features an all-star cast; with Collin Farell, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst and Elle Fanning. Based on the 1971 film of the same name, the story is set during the civil war, where a wounded soldier is taken in by a group of young women staying together at a girl’s school in Virginia. The events take an erotic turn as the entire house writhes with sexual tension, jealousy, and rivalry when the soldier begins to seduce them one by one.

 The premise of the film is quite compelling, and judging by the names credited, the performances seem very promising as the entire cast is superb. It would be interesting to see Coppola’s vision of the story, and of course to enjoy the stunning cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd, since the trailer looks mesmerizing already.


The Discovery (2017) released 31 March

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 This Netflix Original production is probably one of the most authentic and innovative stories of the year. A scientist (Robert Redford) discovers scientific evidence of the afterlife, leading to a massive increase in the number of suicides. A year after his shocking discovery, a couple (Rooney Mara and Jason Segel) struggle to maintain their relationship as the truth of this revelation becomes questionable.

 With its highly compelling premise, The Discovery runs the risk of failing to deliver, as it might waste its length in the build-up without an actual pay off. However, as an intrigued viewer, I shall keep my fingers crossed on this one and wait for, if nothing else, the beautiful cinematography this feature entails.


The Secret Scripture (2016) opening 19 May

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 Based on the novel by the same name, this period drama follows the life of Rose, played by both Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara, a mental institute patient who recounts the events of her life during the upheavals in Ireland in the 1920’s, analyzing how political and religious views affected her life at the time.

 Directed by Jim Shreidan, and set against the beautiful landscapes of Ireland, like a number of masterfully shot recent films have lately (Under the Skin(2013), The Lobster(2015)),  The film certainly shows a lot of promise, especially from its powerful cast, and intriguing screenplay. With The Ottoman Lieutenant opening this week, and The Promise opening in April, 2017 definitely appears like an interesting year for period drama fans.


 You Were Never Really Here (2017)

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 Nothing much has been released about Lynne Ramsey’s latest project, except it stars Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a war veteran trying to save a girl from a sex trafficking circle, but his attempt goes terribly wrong. Apparently 2017 is the year for female filmmakers, as this is the fifth film by a female director on this list alone.

 It seems like Lynne Ramsay is returning to the thriller genre, six years after her success with We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011), an exceptionally fine film that certainly intrigued its viewers to await more from the talented director.


Loving Vincent (2017)

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 With 65,000 frames hand painted on over than a 1,000 canvases, Loving Vincent establishes itself as more than simply an animation film. The five-year project that required over a 100 painters working at studios in the Polish cities of Gdansk and Wroclow is to be finally released in 2017. The film’s idea and technique as the world’s first fully painted feature film was inspired by a line from one of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings”.

 Filmmaker and oil painter Dorota Kobeila was inspired to begin the project after a time of crisis in her life, in which she found solace in the letters of the Dutch painter. The film which will revolve around the life and mysterious death of one of art’s most renowned figures will probably be Vincent Van Gogh’s greatest tribute ever. As a film enthusiast and an art aficionado, I wouldn’t miss this film for the world.


Film Analysis

Freaks (1932): A humane lesson ahead of its time

In 1932, after Todd Browning’s huge success with Dracula (1931), the young director was assigned a new project, one that eventually got banned in more than one country for its vulgar monstrosity, yet when viewed today is a rather heart-rending drama about the real monsters that lurk within; humans.

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Opening with a statement about the history of human deformities, and how society has always been odious towards them, the film sets the tone for its highly empathetic and gentle approach to explore the lives of a group of deformed circus performers, or “freaks”, and the men and women who discriminate against them. The story revolves around a beautiful trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), and her lover Hercules (Henry Victor), as they plot an evil scheme to rob the dwarf Hans (Harry Earles) of his fortune. Though the couple’s scorn is obvious to the entire lot of “monsters”, Hans falls for the plot as he essentially falls in love with Cleopatra.

When it was first screened in 1932, a woman claimed to have had a miscarriage due to the film’s monstrous nature. I personally doubt that anyone would blink an eye watching this film today. So what really happened? Have we as an audience become more empathic towards body image deformities, or have we simply become desensitized to most forms of the macabre because of all the splatter films and even everyday news?

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Despite the production company bailing on the film, and distancing itself from it as much as possible, and the actors themselves expressing disdain towards it, the film remains one of the most compassionate and realistic depictions of circus freak shows. Through its diverse characters, and various tones of good and evil, the film evolves from simply a fairy tale of what is right and what is wrong, into a fascinating realistic story of human deception, malice, group loyalty, and even romantic love stories.

Todd Browning’s attempt to instill tolerance in his audiences towards the often mistreated circus members, as he himself was once a circus member living among said abnormalities of nature, may have escaped his audience’s comprehension. However, his message certainly shines clearly among contemporary audiences. His 64-minute film delivers a powerful statement that not only affects the deformed actors who display a lot of heart, but also the “normal” viewers of 1932 who deemed this film vile. Viewed from afar, it definitely shows how much society has changed over the years.

Film Analysis

The Bizarre Worlds of Yorgos Lanthimos

 In 2011 a young Greek director came to light, as his astoundingly weird feature film Dogtooth was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  He followed with the generally well received 2012 drama Alps, and as of this year, his latest film The Lobster, has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay in the upcoming Academy Awards. Whether you like his films or not, one must admit that Yorgos Lanthimos is definitely a visionary.

 It is not very often that we see a film so extraordinary being nominated for a major category by the Academy, so I decided to revisit Lanthimos’ three exceptional films once again. In this article I will be exploring the main themes used in these three films; Power, Death, and Love.

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Dogtooth and the power of the authority:

 Opening with three teenagers; a boy and two girls, listening to a tape; an authoritarian voice chimes in dictating the new vocab words of the day. However this is not the usual language learning lesson one might expect. “Sea” is a leather chair, like the one in the living room, the voice says, and “Shotgun” is a beautiful white bird.

 This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. The plot revolves around a couple that live isolated from the urban population. The father creates a deeply distorted reality for his children; one in which cats are vicious creatures that might kill any of them if they venture outside the property, and where they can never leave unless their canine tooth falls out and then grows back. The man’s intentions for his actions are unclear, but it is deeply evident that both parents think that the outside world could corrupt their children, and eventually lead them astray.

 The three siblings, though they appear in their twenties, seem to have the mentalities of ten year old children, they spend their days playing mindless games, most of which are created by their parents. Their mistakes are met with severe punishment, and they are repeatedly pushed to compete with each other over meaningless trophies. The framework of the system the father has created begins to collapse when he brings in a young woman from his workplace to pleasure his son. What follows is a rather bewildering turn of events that is best left untold.

 Whether it’s a film that is weird just for the sake of being weird, or a cautionary tale against following the figures of authority, Dogtooth certainly provokes the thought of its viewer. For me, it was clearly a political allegory that follows the consequences of modern day dictatorships, and how they affect their people. The deceitful language used by the father explores the role of the media in present day societies, as it follows oppressive governments to falsify the reality of the people. In our world today, the average individual is spoon-fed the facts and principles of their own surroundings, but how much of it is actually true? Moreover, are we, as a people, pushed by such states into sabotaging ourselves and relentlessly competing with each other over worthless goals? The answers to these questions are up to the viewer.

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Alps and the way death shapes our identities:

 In this slow-paced drama, a group of people; a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast, and her coach, start a small business called Alps. Their work consists mainly of impersonating the deceased, in order to help their families cope with their loss. However, for the nurse, portrayed beautifully by Aggeliki Papoulia, work begins to take over her real life and soon she begins to lose her grip on reality.

Whether it’s the underdeveloped storyline, or the fact that the director’s previous and much more successful work Dogtooth ultimately generates comparison between the two films, Alps  eventually fails to grab its viewer’s attention. With a story that is way more rooted in reality, the film explores the way death shapes our identities, and how somehow most of the memories that remain from us are of our favorite actors and singers.

 “Awareness of human mortality arose some 150,000 years ago. In that extremely short span of evolutionary time, humans have fashioned a single basic mechanism through which they deal with the existential death anxieties this awareness has evoked—denial in its many forms.”

There is something very fascinating about the way the characters deal with death, the families especially, as they seem satisfied by the services provided by the group, despite the painfully stiff performances and apathetic monologues read by them as substitutes of the deceased. The way the group members carry on with their lives outside their business; dull, monotonous, and eminently unambitious, illustrates the importance of this work to them. The services they offer might as well be the uttermost form of altruism of their lives. After all, their roles are like the Alps Mountains; irreplaceable, they can replace any other mountain, but can never be replaced themselves.

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The Lobster and defying the norm:

 In his latest film, Lanthimos mocks society’s rules on love and relationships with his witty dialogue, and eccentric symbolism. Set against the magnificent landscape of Ireland, in a dystopian near future, all single individuals are sent to The Hotel, where they are demanded to find a partner within forty five days, otherwise they’ll be turned into animals. The film follows its main character David (Collin Farell), as he shifts in his stay from the camp of the couple-seeking guests at The Hotel, to the single rebellious “loners” living in the woods in near complete austerity. When he breaks the rules of the loners, and falls in love with another loner (Rachel Weisz), the couple’s situation becomes both endangering and complicated.

 Shining a light on the way society pressures its single members into relationships, and idealizes partnership as the ultimate form of protection and stability, The Lobster ventures to explore the efficiency of the system upon which our entire society is built. When guided to find a partner, the guests at the hotel are advised to find one common preference between them and their possible partner, whether it’s a limb, a lisp, or the liability to occasional nose bleeds. The superficiality of these common traits prompts some of the guests to feign such disabilities in order to find a partner and avoid the fate of being turned into an animal.

 When they actually fall in love, David and the loner woman instantly recognize a common distinction between them; short-sight. However, when the loner woman loses this trait, the couple struggle to find common ground between them once again. The fact that the majority of society, represented in The Hotel, insist on finding one common trait between new couples, actually puts pressure on David and the loner’s relationship. It weakens the power of love, clearly found between the two, as they fail to conform to society’s demands for a healthy relationship.

 With the use of an exceptional soundtrack, and stunning camera work; ranging from slow motion in the most violent scenes, to the director’s signature static shots, The Lobster never fails to impress. It is a social commentary piece shaped in the form of a black comedy that will definitely has its viewer laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Yet by the end of the day, this is a thought provoking film that audiences do not get to see very often, one that will be regarded as a classic piece of cinema instantly.

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 Whether he uses a false reality created by normal people as in Dogtooth, simply a peculiar business set entirely in the real world as in Alps, or a completely artificial world as in The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos never fails to deliver his sharp and ingenious remarks on society’s most basic principles. His films reflect the fundamental rules that govern our daily lives, yet are accepted without the slightest form of doubt. It is especially important to view such films occasionally; otherwise one might become entangled into the conformist values of our modern day societies.


 If you had a different thought regarding these films, make sure to express it in the comments below. After all, it’s the ability of these films to ignite discussion that makes them really standout.