Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas. Films reviewed: Something in the Air, Cold Water, Late August, Early September

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1990s, Drama, Experimental Film, France, Politics, Protest, Romance by CulturalMining.com on June 23, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Olivier Assayas is a leading French filmmaker in mid-career whose current work is some of his best. He was born in 1955 and came of age amidst the violent uprisings of 1968.  Assayas is a devotee of Guy Debord,  whose Situationist International, which combined avant-garde art and architecture with revolution is said to have been instrumental in 1968.

He was born in the business of movie making. His father, Jacques Remy, was a famous screenwriter. I first heard of Assayas in the 1990s, but somehow never saw his movies until recently with Clouds of Sils Maria (review here) and Personal Shopper (review here). Both star Kristen Stewart as a young woman working among ultra-rich celebrities. In these films the characters are introspective and detached, more apt to observe events than participate in them.

Now there’s a comprehensive retrospective playing through August that lets you see his lesser-known works. They totally change how I thought of him. This week, I’m looking at three of his movies showing at Something in the Air: The Cinema of Olivier Assayas. Two of them are based on memories of his adolescence and one about family and friends in their forties.

Something in the Air (2012)

It’s the late 1960s/early 70s in France. Gilles (Clément Métayer) is an upper middle class high school student in a town where chickens still peck on the street. His father adapts scripts for Inspector Maigret movies. But Gilles feels more at home on the streets of a Paris, where student protesters are violently clashing with police. Gilles has two passions: Art – he wants to be a painter – and politics — he’s a non-communist leftist, inclined toward anarchism. His third passion used to be a beautiful woman named Laure, also an artist. They would meet in the woods off country roads to smooch and read beat poetry. Until she dumped him.

His teachers want him to read French classics, but Gilles craves direct action. So he and some friends crank out sexy posters on a gestetner, grab some spray paint and set out on a graffiti trip in the middle of the night. But something goes wrong. As they run away they injure a security guard who falls into a coma. Does he know who threw the rock?

Gilles and his friends decide to get the hell out of there, and drive off to Italy in a VW van with a film collective. On the way, he debates China’s Cultural Revolution, and whether films should shock the masses with experimental, new techniques or educate them with “things they’ll understand”.

Meanwhile he smokes hash, and falls for a young woman named Christine but refuses to commit to everlasting love. Will he remain true to his artistic and political ideals? Or follow his father’s profession?

Cold Water (1994)

It’s the late 60s/ early 70s in France in a small town outside Paris. Christine and Gilles (Virginie Ledoyen, Cyprien Fouquet) are young lovers both from divorced parents. He comes from an upperclass family with a Hungarian housekeeper and a frustrated dad. Christine lives with her Scientologist mom, her Egyptian soccer playing stepdad. Her birth father owns a corner store. Gilles and Christine hang out and do daring and impulsive things together, like shoplifting from a record store. She makes a commotion and is tackled by security guards while he runs away with the loot. But the scheme falls though. The police get involved and hand Christine to her despised father who immediately commits to a mental hospital called Beausoleil. Gilles meanwhile is physically thrown out of class by an angry prof. And for some reason Gilles secreteky buys ten sticks of dynamite. What is he planning?

Gilles and Christine manage to meet again with friends at an outdoor party by an abandoned house, listening to loud radio music, smoking hash and dancing like Wickerman devotees around a huge bonfire. But can they stay together despite all the forces set against them?

Cold Water and Something in the Air are both semi-autobiographical works about Assayas’s adolescence, but made 20 years apart. I watched them in quick succession which is a mind-blowing experience. The two films have a lot in common. They both feature Gilles and Christine as young runaways but with very different results. In both films Gilles deals with a disapproving school teacher and a disappointed father, which suggests they are based on important events in his life. Bonfires, beat poetry, and period American music also play crucial roles in both films.

Maybe because Assayas is so much older now, Something in the Air can look back at the politics and visual details of the era with a cynical eye. Of the two films, I found Cold Water much more passionate, more gutsy. It’s imbued with a nihilistic punk streak, missing from the later film.

Although called semi-autobiographical, Something in the Air places Gilles and Christine in the student uprisings in Paris in 1968, while in Cold Water they dance to music from 1972. (Born in 1955, Assayas would have been 13 in 1968, 17 in ’72.) I guess that’s where the “semi-” comes from.

Late August, Early September (1998)

Gabriel and Adrien (Mathieu Amalric, François Cluzet) are close friends in their forties in an unequal relationship. Adrien is a famous writer committed to his craft. He once spent his last centime on a small work by Joseph Beuys. But how he’s broke and his star has dimmed. Gabriel works as a literary editor. He idolizes Adrien and everything about him even while he has a clandestine affair with a beautiful but impulsive young woman named Anne (Virginie Ledoyen). He recently broke up with long-time partner Jenny (Jeanne Balibar) who is also close to Adrien. But things take a turn for the worse.

Adrien has cancer and publishers have rejected his latest book. Gabriel, meanwhile, has risen to a high-ranked position at a magazine, high enough that he can hire Adrien to do paid gruntwork. And unknown to most of them, Adrien is having a clandestine, though non-sexual, relationship with a teenaged girl named Vera.

The film follows all of them, as well as a much wider circle of family, friends and ex-partners, each with past loves and unsettled grudges.

Like Assayas’ other movies, this is not a plot-heavy film, it’s a realistic slice of life of Parisian intellectuals. I didn’t immediately love this movie, but it’s the kind of film that gradually grows on you, leaving a lot to think about afterwards.

One remarkable thing: this might be the first movie I’ve ever seen where the biggest shock comes in the closing credits. Vera (Adrien’s much younger girlfriend) is a minor character, but crucial to the plot. The last line in the film, “On verra” (“we’ll see”, a pun on her name), is spoken by Gabriel who interrupts a conversation when he glimpses Vera through a window. Vera is played by none other than Mia Hansen-Løve, who eventually became Assayas’s own much-younger wife. This film was her first appearance on the screen; she is now a well-regarded Danish director.

Late August, Early September, Something in the Air and Cold Water are all playing through August at the Tiff Bell Lightbox in Toronto as part of the Olivier Assayas retrospective. The director appears in person at some screenings; go to tiff.net for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson about their new film The Forbidden Room at #TIFF15

Posted in Art, Canada, comedy, Drama, Dreams, Experimental Film, Fantasy, Horror by CulturalMining.com on October 9, 2015

Evan Johnson, Guy Maddin Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

A man in a smoking jacket extolls the joys of a good bath. Three sailors trapped in a submarine look for help, even as an angelic lumberjack finds his way on board in search of the orgies of the clan of the cave bear. Outside, somewhere a volcano is erupting, a butler is murdering and a Evan Johnson, Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room, Interview TIFF15 Daniel Garberghost is returning in a never ending confusion of interlinked stories as complex of chinese boxes. But will our heroes ever reach the mystery of the Forbidden Room?

The Forbidden Room is also the name of a new film the showed at the Toronto International Film Festival. Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin is known for his tales of twisted nostalgia, his eerie retakes of Canadian history, and comical melodramas done in new interpretations of bf10c259-a01f-44d1-b52c-56d713151297archaic styles. He’s one of the few directors that can make an art film that is totally enjoyable and funny. His amazing movies include Tales from the Gimli Hospital, and My Winnipeg. Co-db8a15f3-aa94-4806-ae38-6a8900fca871directed by Evan Johnson this film adds new artistic and editing techniques to bring it to mind-blowing levels of beauteous artistic mayhem, unfathomability and WTF-ness.6bb76640-d39f-4167-9e01-22bef691e86a

I spoke to director Guy Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson at #TIFF15. We talked about: seances to lost cinema, Paris, the Centre Pompidou, the Phi Centre, Quebec, NFB, Louis Negin’s scrotum, Pierre & Gilles, Carl Dreyer, Roy Dupuis, instructional films, John Ashbury’s writing, exploitation movies, editing techniques, Guy Maddin’s mojo, analog vs digital film, Havana, women in skeleton unitards …and more!

The Forbidden Room opens today in Toronto.

Photos of Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson by Jeff Harris. 

Oscar Redux. Movies reviewed: Girlhood, Duke of Burgundy, Elephant Song

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Elephants, Experimental Film, France, Gangs, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 27, 2015
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Do you have the post-Oscar blues? Tired of the same-old, same-old? We’ve got Boyhood, but what about Girlhood? There’s Birdman, but how about an Elephant Song? And how about 50 Shades of Gray… with an all-female cast? This week I’m looking at three new movies, that provide a twist to some you’re more familiar with. I have a coming of age movie from France, an erotic art-house flick from the UK and a psychological drama from Canada.

a8b59ceb4619ab826971f3dcde96647bElephant Song
Dir: Charles Binamé

It’s a Canadian mental hospital in the 1960s. Michael (Xavier Dolan) a patient there is summoned to a therapy session. but his regular doctor isn’t there — he’s missing. In his place is a new face, a certain Dr Green (Bruce Greenwood). He’s read the files and listened to the reel to reel tapes. Now he’s there to set things straight, and has no time for Elephant Song/Melennypsychological games. But games are exactly what Michael loves.

Dr Green is a greenhorn in that office, but Michael knows every nook and cranny. He decides to take the doctor (and the movie’s audience) on a grand tour of his own life, but on his own Elephant Song/Melennyterms. And just outside the office door, always listening, is Miss Peterson, a nurse (Catherine Keener). He reveals his hidden past – he says he’s the son of a famous opera singer who toured the world as a child. Even as he uncovers hidden treasures around the office, which fit together like the missing pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. These include a stuffed animal, a box of treats, and some hidden photographs – that may be related to the doctor’s disappearance.Elephant Song/Melenny

Dr Green is convinced everything Michael says is a lie. He thinks Michael has alterior motives — possibly an escape plan to escape the high security facility. But what about the doctor’s real reason for this question/answer session? And how does Nurse Peterson fit into this puzzle?

Elephant Song is not bad at all. It’s a genuine psychological drama, a chess game between two equal players — sort of like the movie Sleuth, but shot with a soft focus lens. The acting is credible. But the whole film has a slightly clunky, wooden feel to it. It’s like a stage play still in previews that hasn’t yet found its rhythm.

WnmKlv_girlhood_03_o3_8550274_1424455177Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
Wri/Dir: Céline Sciamma

Marieme (Karidja Touré) is a 15-year-old Parisian schoolgirl. She’s shy, neat and conscientious, making sure her younger sisters are fed and put to bed… and careful not to antagonize her abusive older brother. She likes school, and is on the girls’ tackle football team. She keeps her long braids tied back and wears American Apparel jeans and hoodies. She just wants to live a normal life. But everything changes when her guidance counsellor says she’s being channeled to the vocational stream. But why? She wants her bac, she wants a chance at a better life, not cleaning RgwKrK_girlhood_02_MAIN_o3_8550228_1424455174offices like her mom.

It’s like her life is over. Mortified, she runs out of the building, but is called over by some tough girls cutting class outside the school. Lady, Adiatou and Fily (Assa Sylla, Lindsey Karamoh, Marietou Touré) are not like her. They use lots of makeup, have their hair ironed straight, dress in leather jackets, and carry switch blades. They’re a gang of three and want a fourth member to complete their crew. But she’s not like them… is she?

662xyV_girlhood_01_o3_8550183_1424455173Soon enough she’s shaking down girls for cash, going on trips into the city, away from the desolate banlieus. She goes by the name Vic now, short for Victoire. And they get into fist fights with rival girl gangs. The losers are publicly shamed by getting their clothes pulled off in from of a crowd holding up their cameras. The four friends’ rules? Stand up for yourself, don’t let boys push you around, and only do what you want to do, not what others expect of you. But how much of a future does this gang have? Will she fall into organized crime? Drugs or the sex trade?

This is a great coming-of-age story, told from the viewpoint of a young black Parisian woman living in the suburban public highrises. It’s a slice of life drama, not one with easily solved problems. But the cast – all first time actors — is incredible, and the story touching and realistic.

5309faf2-5d03-4414-981b-7e53495d63acThe Duke of Burgundy
Wri/Dir: Peter Strickland

Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a single woman who lives on an estate somewhere in Europe, surrounded by fields and trees. She has auburn hair, long eyelashes and a severe demeanor. She’s a lepidopterist, and her mansion is filled with items from her collection: thousands of butterflies and moths – including the Duke of Burgundy – all carefully pinned and mounted 81446793-1628-423e-b85d-9d11a95dfbacin glass-covered wooden cases. She’s a perfectionist. Each day she spends her time drawing precise diagrams on white charts and typing her observations using a manual Underwood typewriter. And every so often she ventures outside on her bicycle to give lectures to row after row of smart looking women in smart dresses.

f05dea49-f6b6-4dab-b557-6ff715419284Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) works for her as a maid. She’s late for work and a bit confused about her duties, but Cynthia doesn’t cut her any slack. She scolds her, and warns her to do what she’s told… or suffer the consequences!

But she’s given strange tasks for a cleaning woman, made to crawl around on her hands and knees, while scrubbing the floor. When she asks for a toilet break, Cynthia cruely says no, not until I say you can. Meanwhile she’s polishing Cynthia’s knee-high black leather boots, kneeling on the floor massaging her feet or washing her 5c01d1ab-d84c-4354-ab08-77064e39e976boss’s undergarments… by hand. Though Evelyn always wears a meek and baffled look on her face, she doesn’t seem bothered by her boss’s eccentricities. She almost seems to want to be punished.

What’s going on? And why is Cynthia guzzling glass after glass of water for some unkown future punishment? Soon we discover its all a fantasy — complete with wigs and costumes — a role-playing exercise between two lovers: dominant Cynthia and submissive Evelyn.

And these scenes, down to the tiniest detail are repeated day after day, as almost an exercise in absurdity. These episodes are alternated with love-making in the bedroom at night, discretely shot reflected in convex mirrors, faded triple exposures or shot through tiny peepholes in closed doors.

Is this a parody of 70s soft core porn? Or an homage to it? I’m not sure which, but a director like Peter Strickland would never include footage just for titillation. He’s somewhere between Quentin Tarantino and Peter Greenaway, with a distinctive 70s style. Duke of Burgundy is beautiful to watch and listen to… but it’s clearly not for everyone.

Elephant Song, the Duke of Burgandy, and Girlhood all open today in Toronto – check your local listings. And this weekend lookout for  the Canadian Screen Awards, our own Oscars.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

Movies with Kids vs Kids’ Movies. Films Reviewed: Oculus, Loubia Hamra (Bloody Beans), Anina

Posted in Animation, Art, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Dreams, Experimental Film, Family, France, Horror, Images Festival, Uruguay, War by CulturalMining.com on April 12, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Lots of movies use kids. Some try for a young audience, others have young characters. And the two types don’t necessarily overlap. This week I’m looking at three movies: a chiller-thriller about two kids and a haunted mirror they can’t escape; an art film with kids reenacting the Algerian War; and an animated film from Uruguay about a girl with an envelope she can’t open.

VVS_Oculus_PosterOculus
Dir: Mike Flanagan

Kaylie and Tim (Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites) are sister and brother. Kaylie is a decisive, take-charge kind of girl with long red hair like her mother. Tim is brown haired like his dad. A decade earlier, something violent and terrible happened in their home. And by the time it was over, they were orphans. They locked up 10-year-old Tim in a mental hospital. Now, they declare, he’s all cured. No more of that childish nonsense he used to spout – about voices and mind-control and a demon who lives inside a mirror. He’s a responsible adult now, ready to live in the real world. (Like a babe in the woods.)

Except… what’s the first thing big sister Kaylie does? She drags him back to the JE3_7854.NEFhouse where it all happened, and says – we’re gonna get that demon – the one in the mirror – and kill her!

Apparently that antique mirror has been spawning grisly murders for centuries. It possesses all it encounters and muddles their thoughts until they can’t tell illusion from reality. So Kaylie has rigged up a complicated system, involving cameras, computer JE3_2064.NEFscreens, alarm clocks, and a lethal-looking blade that’s always poised to smash the mirror.

The return home triggers strong memories in Tim’s mind – he begins to relive the old days alongside the recent events. Are Tim and Kaylie strong enough to resist the demon’s illusions?

This is a good, scary movie with the two stories – now and flashbacks – unfolding side-by-side, and occasionally overlapping. Parts feel hackneyed, but the two sets of actors (in their teens and twenties) are totally convincing.

Suitable for children? Only if they can handle extreme violence, gore and nightmarish horror.

bloody beans.phpLoubia Hamra (Bloody Beans)
Dir: Narimane Mari

It’s Algeria. Boys dressed in stylish shorts and silk neckties are playing on the beach. They swim in the ocean, float on beached tires and lie in the sun. Until one of them farts.

You fart like an Frenchman! they shout. It’s those bloody beans — loubia make you fart. So they raid the picnic basket the girls brought. The girls warn them there are soldiers on the streets: war is coming.

(Context: Algeria is a north African country, once colonized by its neighbour across the Mediterranean. France annexed it and hundreds of thousands of Europeans settled there. A War of Independence broke out in the 1950s. The Algerian War was notorious for the violence, torture, and cruelty used by both the French military and the FLN revolutionaries. A third group, the OAS –  French extremist-nationalists who refused to leave Algeria – terrorized both the French and the Algerians.)

So the revolutionary boys and girls who want more than just beans to eat set out along the beach, just as the sun sets. bloody beans images festivalThey don wigs, scarves, masks and capes. They paint their faces and bodies with drawings and fake beards. At a French monastery they gaze at the statues, fillagries and icons. They fight an evil man in a pigs mask, and make friends with a French soldier who was drafted to serve. And they project their shadows against a white washed building, making animal noises.

Bloody Beans is a beautiful and strange reenactment, 50 years after the end of the Algerian war. It includes lots of subtle details: women fighting alongside men, the colonial division between the French haves and the Algerian have-nots, and the violence and torture on both sides. It ends with a floating recitation in the ocean, with the boys and girls repeatedly asking: is it better to be than to obey? (Vaut-il mieux etre que d’obeir?).

This complex film is a work of art that uses video as the canvas, kids as the paint.

anina_06_medium tiff kidsAnina
Dir: Alfredo Soderguit (Uruguay)

Anina Yatay Salas is a girl with wild, red hair and a triple-barreled name. Her dad loves the symmetry of her palindromes, words where the head matches the tail. And each day Anina looks at her bus ticket to see if its number is a palindrome like her.

One day, on the school playground she bumps into blonde Yisel, sending her sandwich flying through the air and down a drain. This starts a big fight. Anina calls Yisel, a big girl, “the elephant”.anina_05_medium TIFF kids Yisel makes fun of Anina’s palindromic names.

Their punishment? The principal gives them both mysterious black envelopes, closed with red sealing wax. They have to keep it safe and unopened for a week. Will this strange punishment teach them a lesson?

Anina is a very simple film, but it looks amazing. It’s an animated cartoon in a dusty and smudgy, retro style. It’s filled with fascinating details that shout Uruguay: eggs wrapped in paper, strange fried foods, kids wearing white smocks to school. At the same time, its buses, classrooms, and playgrounds look just like here.

anina_04_medium TIFF kidsBut the movie is at its best when Anina’s imagination takes over: her bus turns into a riverboat, she gets lost in an imaginary hedge maze. And there’s a fantastic nightmare sequence where the Principal and a mean teacher morph into a ghostly judge and jury – ready to punish her for what she did to her black envelope.

Anina is clearly a kids’ movie but everyone can appreciate its amazing look.

Oculus opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Anina is part of the TIFF Kids film festival, on now (tiff.net), and Bloody Beans is playing April 14th at Toronto’s Images festival of moving art (imagesfestival.com).

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website  culturalmining.com

Mind Twisters. Movies reviewed: A Field in England, Divergent, Nymph()maniac (Parts 1 and 2)

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Brain teasers, mind-bogglers. This week I’m bringing you some real brain-twisting films. There’s a sci-fi-action-romance about a young woman caught in a futuristic caste-system determined by personality; a Euro comedy/drama about sex; And an absurdist British period piece about … I’m not quite sure what.

A Field in England Poster stacks_image_236A Field in England

Ben Wheatley

It’s 17th Century England in a field near Norwich. The civil war is raging. Three scruffy wanderers end up travelling together. They are heading toward a legendary alehouse where all their problems will be solved, all their differences will disappear. But things get complicated when O’Neal, a tall, sinister man, appears — seemingly out of nowhere — with a nasty henchman. The necromancer’s servant (one of the three travellers), tries to arrest O’Neal. But a warrant without a musket to back it up isn’t worth much in an English field. Instead, O’Neal press gangs the three men to dig for treasure. At least I think that’s the plot, but I’m not exactly sure.

People in this movie appear, disappear, die, un-die, turn into wooden posts, and drop magic mushrooms into unwatched soup pots.

Shot in beautiful black and white, with excellent contemporary experimental music, it leaves me scratching my head. Is it all just an acid trip by men wearing three-cornered hats in an historic battle reenactment? I cannot say. But it definitely belongs in the movie file labeled “WTF”.

DIVERGENTDivergent

Dir: Neil Burger

It’s Chicago a hundred years in the future. Society is divided into five castes, each with its own rules. Erudite is for the intelligent professionals who wear Wall Street suits. Abnegation is where the sympathetic and selfless helpers go — they control the government. And Dauntless is for the paramilitary – brave and aggressive.

Young Tris’s family (Shailene Woodley) is Abnegation. They wear beige, meditate, and eat whole grains. Tris only looks in the mirror for a few seconds each day. But when she attains age of majority and takes the annual test — to determine personality and faction – something strange happens. The test doesn’t work on her – it can’t assign her to a particular faction. This could mean she’s “Divergent” — someone who displays a personality that transcend a single type. And if the authorities find out, they’ll kill her.

To everyone’s surprise, she ends up joining Dauntless, trading beige burlap Divergent Theo Jamesfor black leather. She eats her first hamburger. She and the other Dauntless newbies are thrust into a world of violent, brutal competition, runaway L-trains and parkour jumping. She answers to a sadistic trainer Eric (Jai Courtney). Only her new best friends like Chris (Zoe Kravitz) help her hang on. But when she meets a Dauntless named Four (Theo James) is it love at first sight?

Divergent Kate WinsletIn order to stay in the faction she has to pass a series of tests that subject her to her worst phobias — her mind is read and recorded by a computer. Tris has to keep reminding herself: it’s not real.Will her secret be revealed?  Is Erudite, headed by Jeanine (Kate Winslet) plotting against the Abnegation faction? Is Four on her side? And will he ever understand how much Tris loves him?

Although Divergent occasionally veers into Twilight territory, with a few too many dewy-eyed moments, it mainly sticks to plot, action and great special effects. I liked it: a simple but neat concept, great special effects, and Shailene Woodley and Theo James are good as a team of romantic fighters.

nymphomaniac_mongrel_03_medium

Nymphomaniac

Dir: Lars von Trier

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is lying half dead in a dark alley, when an elderly intellectual (Stellan Skarsgard) finds her. He takes her into his home and nurses her back to health. She says she’s a nymphomaniac. And she proceeds to tell him the story of her life;  specifically, the sexual parts.

The stories she tells are based on the pictures she sees on the wall of his room. Is Nymphomaniac 13 photo by Christian Geisnaesshe an unreliable narrator? Maybe, but her stories are fun to watch.

Her first orgasm makes her levitate and leads to a visit by the Virgin Mary. (The Whore of Babylon, says Seligman.)

Later, she intentionally loses her virginity to a man named Jerome (Shia LeBoeuf). She describes it like this:  first I lay on my back and he thrust three times. Then he turned me over and thrust five times. And here’s how Seligman responds: Three, then Five? Why that’s part of the Fibonacci number sequence!

Joe is unadulterated sex. Seligman (an asexual virgin) represents pure reason.

chapter1As a young woman, she and a friend compete to see who can pick up – and have sex with — the most men, sequentially, on a train. The winner gets a bag of candy. Seligman: Why that’s like fly fishing – you send out the lure and try to reel it in at just the right moment!

Joe describes how she dates many nameless men simultaneously, avoiding all emotional entanglement. She actually rolls dice before calling a boyfriend to decide whether to be nice, pouty, or to drop him altogether. But she discovers her game affects many people besides just the men she has sex with.

Love rears its ugly head. Jerome is back, and she falls for him hook, line and Nymphomaniac Uma Thurman & Stacy Martin photo by Christian Geisnaessinker. But are they sexually compatible?

She describes encounters with anonymous men,  a long relationship with a BDSM master (Jamie Bell),  her try at a 12-step program, and finding a protege (Mia Goth) to take her place.

This movie is much too long to describe in a short review. It’s full of cinematic quotes from Von Triers’ earlier films – his own movie scenes reenacted. He Nymphomania chapter_2_photo_by_Christian_Geisnaes_2insults critics, pundits, himself… and occasionally the audience. For example, a  scene about Joe and two (supposedly) African men dredges up hoary racial stereotypes — it’s intentionally offensive. But it’s followed by an equally long scene with Joe and Seligman debating “political correctness”. The ridiculous sex scene is Jamie_Bell_LOWreally just a straw man to make way for a long discussion.

It’s also a movie full of explicit sex and nudity: at one point there are a hundred consecutive penis pics, but mostly it’s vagina, vagina, vagina. This movie could be subtitled The Vagina Mia_Goth_LOWDialogues. The symbols are everywhere: tunnels, alleys, window curtains, sliding doors, and holes in walls. It’s a woman’s sexuality filtered through the eyes of a male director.

There is also some repulsive, graphic violence, especially in Part 2. But above all, the movie’s a comedy. And I liked it – all four and a half hours.

A Field in England is now playing, and Nymphomaniac (Parts 1 and 2 — separate tickets), and Divergent both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. The Pasolini retrospective continues at TIFF (tiff.net) and Cinefranco, Toronto’s francophone film festival, starts next week: details at cinefranco.com.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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