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Highjacking Intent

This post is a response to a movie review for “Nymph()maniac” Vol 1 that I came across in the local free press, I am writing, not to defend its director, as much as position legitimate film commentary out of reach of lazy reviewers such as himself. To pronounce the filmmaker a woman hater was the work of an inquisitor, not a critic. He is employed to increase the understanding of cinema and yet he rants as if he would condemn the film never to be seen. It’s not Lars Von Trier’s best film. I grew weary of watching it too. He’s repeating himself after so many outings. You notice fewer tricks and more ticks, but he’s still a master.

The film reviewer denounced Von Trier’s latest movie as lazy, contrived and boring then went on to write a review that I would characterize the same way. Anyway, lots of good movies are boring the first time I watch them. I have edged into boredom looking at hundreds of them and then was glad that I watched them again.

There was an 11am showing of the new Von Trier flick at “The Mayan,” a lovely, antique movie palace in old south Denver. I had been driving for hours and could have used a nap, but I still laughed all the way through the film. Von Trier’s most enduring quality is on display, his wit. I must admit, the dozen or so in the theater around me didn’t seem to laugh as much, so perhaps I’m a misfit. They were probably cringing, for which my response was just one alternative. We were all experiencing the same unease for the characters. Perhaps the only difference was, I enjoyed it because it was a movie and not real life.

The reviewer in question had one compliment for “Nymph()maniac”, praising Uma Thurman’s work, which was good but might have worked better before an audience, on a live stage. On the other hand, I was most amused by something the reviewer condemned as contrived. I suppose he’s right, but contriving the lighthearted obsessions of a fly fisherman with the world weary gripes of a courtesan past her prime sounds like something out of a Lubitch or Noel Coward play.

The reviewer’s accusation, of non-acting by the ingénue, is misguided as well I believe. An understated performance was the director’s call. I thought the actress modulate beautifully within the confines of her role. I’d dare to guess she was protected from waxing pornographic by stealthy direction. While the nude scenes were somewhat erotic, the screenplay is too multidimensional to be porn. Instead of exciting, it becomes interesting. It comments on porn.

As an interesting side note, my lady and I enjoyed a comedy starring Scarlett Johansson, involving porn addiction at the Sundance Kabuki in Japantown, San Francisco last fall. It’s directed by and also stars Joseph-Gorden-Levitt.

In direct contrast with mainstream internet adult content, in “Nymp()maniac” Vol 1 we are shown the dark side of a disease and acquire compassion. The maker of this film is depending on our social corrective instincts to kick in, not to sexually gratify his audience with one more exposé of skin.

We are already inundated with porn in the media. Responsible members of society need to undertake more and more of these kinds of debates. The moving image in “Nymph()maniac,” Vol 1 makes a forced entry into that frame, imposes on its cheap set-ups with talented actors instead of porn stars, then surrounds them with the very consequences which are customarily omitted in porn. Von Trier is not glorifying Jo’s exploits. He is coming out against the subjugation of women. So, hurray for Mother Nature if we feel obliged to stand up for the victims of sexual predation after watching his movie. Many a movie maker has inspired less noble sentiments in an audience.

Another worthy inquiry embedded in the script, which the reviewer I read never bother to address, is how we rationalize our denials to sooth our egos, like Von Trier’s protagonist. You can’t lie to yourself forever. It’s a universal theme, one that might as well be taken away, even if you didn’t care for the rest. That’s the kind of attitude I prefer, from journalists at free weekly newspapers when writing about films by accomplished filmmakers. The future of many crucial social debates is in the hands of filmmakers. They can have a massive, positive impact on society if they are allowed.

With regard to my own film commentary, I have decided that a person that sits at a desk for hours writing about movies after sitting at the movies for hours thinking about writing about them is engaged in a considerably more lightweight enterprise compared to the dedicated filmmaker that gets out there and gets their films made. We should show some respect.

If the reviewer thinks the Von Trier derived prurient pleasure making this or any of his films, why doesn’t he ask the actors. I’ve never heard anyone accuse this director of rubbing their noses in it.  Von Trier just might be aiming his light to penetrate shades of ignorance and denial where we all wallow from time to time.

Lars Von Trier’s movies have, for the most part, compassionately portrayed the ordeals of women. In the meantime, I don’t know of another director that has helped advance the careers of so many female artists.

He’s a trickster, just as his countryman Carl Theodor Dreyer was. If you’re bored, maybe he’s not the one that’s lazy. The man’s fighting for our survival, using everything he’s got to make us think and in one limp, clichéd phrase a careless reporter sinks the boat? That stinks.

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