Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. Denmark/Belgium/France/Germany/United Kingdom, 2013. Zentropa Entertainments, Zentropa International Koln, Slot Machine, Zentropa International France, Caviar Films, Zenbelgie BVBA, Zentropa International Sweden, Arte France Cinema, Film i Vast, Groupe Grand Accord, ARTE G.E.I.E. Screenplay by Lars von Trier. Cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro. Produced by Marie Gade Denessen, Louise Vesth. Production Design by Alexander Scherer. Film Editing by Molly Marlene Stensgaard.
Warning, this review contains spoilers for Volume I. Picking up her tale where it left off at the end of the first chapter, with Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s modern-day Moll Flanders still perpetually hitting the sack but bereft of any of the good feelings the activity is meant to engender, we find her deep in the depression of a stale marriage and the chores of motherhood. Husband Shia LaBeouf suggests, in a throwback to Breaking the Waves, that he is unable to satisfy her mammoth needs and perhaps she should start taking up with other men. Gainsbourg goes several steps further, seeking out the assistance of a pretty-faced sadist (Jamie Bell) who ties her up and beats her bare ass so good that she finally starts to feel the pangs of lustful pleasure again, to the point that her duties as a parent begin to fall by the wayside and contribute to the crumbling of her marriage. From there continues a journey that is dark and miserable (a throwback to Melancholia) that sees her seeking help from a therapy group, sublimating her sexual desires into violent employment as a debt collector and taking up with an unpredictable protégé who ends up invoking the last straw. Stellan Skarsgård continues to oversee the telling of her tale while also revealing himself to be her clearest opposite, while von Trier proves himself completely unable to ever break free of his own circular motions of despair: Gainsbourg learns to boldly reject the world’s view of her as something broken but forgets to actually enjoy being what she is unafraid of being, destroying her marital life but finding nothing else to replace it with, instead hurling herself into a void that the film allows to continue beyond its conclusion. Von Trier doesn’t hate women, he hates everyone, and life always works itself down to a singular point of a figure, alone, defending itself against the intrusive violence of human hypocrisy. It would be far more satisfying if he at least allowed his character more joy in experiencing life’s pointlessness: she chooses “nymphomaniac” over “sex addict” but she also has very little sex in this half, and the injuries she has sustained from years of hard usage of her fun parts displays a desire to punish anyone for telling or hearing this story. The best scenes are the sequence with Bell, the deliciously risqué imagery of Gainsbourg in high heels strapped to a couch (with no safety word!) putting paid to the silliness of Fifty Shades of Grey and giving a real look at people whose desire to feel ultimate highs takes them to gruesome extremes. It’s a rare moment of this nutty auteur letting himself have a good time amid all the gloom, though even if doesn’t maintain the highs of the first half this exercise in giant European eccentricity is still, thanks in part to exceptional skill in direction and performance, well worth the effort.