Huntress of lost lust

No martyr-like sacrificial figure, no apocalyptic visions: In the second part of “Nymphomaniac” with Charlotte Gainsbourg the sex gets harder, but Lars von Trier seems more relaxed than ever.

Lars von Trier has never told such tender and playful stories – with wit, poetry, self-irony. This time no heroine, who must be stylized pathetically into a martyr-like victim figure. No apocalyptic visions that want to devour us with skin and hair. Instead a “sandwich” number with two African drug dealers as a lively burlesque, or – ridiculous and touching at the same time – the search for a sign of personal attention in the sadomasochistic ritual, which is executed as an abstract service.

Sex Punch and Desperation Theater, intimate confession and visionary debauchery, psychogram and self-portrait – all this is also the second part of the “Nymphomaniac” diptych, although on the surface it is only about the harder episodes from the heroine’s sex life. The story begins exactly where the first part ended: Joe (androgynous, fragile, fascinating: Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells the man who takes her life confession, the monkish private scholar Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), about the terrible moment when she suddenly became insensitive. The adventurously aroused pleasure body of the sex obsession turns into the painful body of lost pleasure, which Joe now wants to bring back by force.

Forget about love!
Joe sees the act of their physical punishment and degradation as an act of resistance to self-assertion. Resistance also against medical diagnoses – and against Seligman’s fibbing. She insists on being a “nymphomaniac” and not – as the therapist puts it – suffering from “sex addiction”. What she experienced as a rapturous, orgasmically arousing Marian apparition when she was twelve years old is supposed to remain a mystery and must be defended against the medical interpretation as an “epileptic seizure” and Seligman’s know-it-all. This Mary was probably rather the “Whore of Babylon,” he thinks. And again Lars von Trier lures us into the labyrinth of his paradoxes.

As an accomplice of his heroine, he insists that her experiences remain visionarily illuminable, existential enigmas. Just as Albrecht Dürer, in his famous copperplate engraving “Melencolia I” (1514), no longer shows melancholy as a state of mind of vicious tribulation, but as a source of creativity, Lars von Trier now celebrates his heroine’s mental disturbances. With which then also his “Trilogy of Depression” comes to a grandiose conclusion – after “Antichrist” and “Melancholia”.

Von Trier obsessively searches for the sore points where extremes meet, or better: collide. Dissipation and asceticism, control and devotion. Here the sex-obsessed Joe – there the asexual Seligman. The camera moves tantalizingly close to the performers, only to dream magical worlds in the next moment. The filmmaker appears like a puppeteer who guides every gesture of his characters and at the same time longs for the world to reveal itself in beauty and horror as if by itself.

Contrasts, constructed to the abrupt experimental arrangement, in which one must not overlook that Joe and Seligman have one thing in common: their sad, empty loneliness. At its core, “Nymphomaniac” tells the story of a woman who has lost all sensibility and tries to learn at least the basics of being able to feel. In fact, she will find tender moments in friendly embraces – and the memory of the “soul tree” her father showed her in childhood days appears as a comforting vision, even if it is formulated in the subjunctive of longing.

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