The Power of The Cunt – “Nymph()maniac” & “20,000 Days on Earth”
By Brendan Power . February 10, 2014
If you ever want to see grown men and women drop all social airs and graces and revert to running like kids getting out of class on the last day of term, then come on down to the Grand Hyatt at Potsdamer Platz. This is what seems to happen after every major press screening at the Berlinale, as the assorted hordes of journos, hacks and bloggers literally stampede over each to make it from the movie theatre back into to the Hyatt press conference room which has limited capacity compared to the theatres. Having arrived at the Berlinale Palast later than I would have hoped to for the screening of Lars Von Trier’s controversial new film ‘Nymphomaniac’, I had to scale the heights of the 6th floor just to get one of the last free seats in this humongous theatre. This made my own starting position in the stampede back to the post screening conference all the more precarious as I had ten flights of stars to catch up on the early birds who were seated on the ground floor. I had to fight like a cunt to make it, but make it I did, just by the sweaty skin of my teeth.
The highlight, or perhaps a better term would be lowlight, of the press conference, apart from Uma Thurman’s delightful exuberance at playing a role where she claimed she could feel free to act in a more theatrical manner than normal, was Shia LaBeouf’s petulant response to his first question of the session. Borrowing (plagiarizing?) Eric Cantona’s famous ‘Seagulls‘ response to the football media almost 20 years ago, he then simply upped and left, displaying almost as much cunt as the extended cut of the movie we had just seen, and leaving his co-stars to laugh nervously and field the remaining few questions (My snap of Shia above, seated next to Christian Slater minutes before his little dramatic exit, and more hijinks on the red carpet here). In contrast, the film is quite excellent, and I was pleasantly surprised that this was only Volume I of a two-parter. Stacy Martin, making her feature film debut, gives a captivating performance as the younger version of central character Joe, who, from an early age, learns to harness and experiment with the power she says her “cunt” has over men . Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing the older Joe, and Stellan Skarsgård as Seligman, anchor the film’s narrative via a long, twisting and moralistic conversation, including fly-fishing analogies which prompt various flashbacks to Joe’s highly sexual and precociously promiscuous youth. She is a nymphomaniac you see.
Despite the extremely graphic nature of the many many sex scenes in this film, it never really comes close to being pornographic and the relatively unknown Martin should have a bright future ahead of her after this breakout performance. Uma Thurman also shines in her one and only scene as the deserted wife of one of Joe’s many older lovers. Her brief yet powerful appearance swings quickly from the humourous to the devastatingly tragic as she brings her 3 sons along to confront her cheating husband and Joe in her apartment, unleashing what she described as her “fury of woman scorned”. Shia LaBeouf, to his credit, does a good job as the pseudo-love interest, apart from a desperately bad attempt at what seemed to be a British accent. As with many of Von Trier’s creations, the cinematography and storytelling in Nymphomaniac is top class and when the credits start to role, and the film abruptly ends, you are left aching to find out what will happen to Joe next. Also a quick shout out to Christian Slater as Joe’s dad, except for one scene he doesn’t really have much to do, but manages to do so with a slow and measured performance very much befitting of his character.
A much less hyped but also fascinating experience came in the form of 20,000 Days on Earth, a biopic documentary of sorts, focusing on the life and times of Australian singer and Bad Seeds front-man, Nick Cave, as he looks back at 20,000 days alive on our planet. I did not expect to enjoy this as I have never really listened to his music, and always found him to be a bit of an odd and grumpy cunt, but directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard do a solid job of helping him tell his story. Despite the numerous scenes which feature a brooding Cave staring out at various landscapes around his current home in Brighton, England, the viewer is left with a unique insight into what makes this superstar tick. It’s easier to like someone if you can feel like you know them somewhat, and call me a sucker but Nick Cave has indeed gone up in my estimation as result of this piece of film.
We start naturally with some childhood reminiscence and progress through to anecdote-laden scenes where Cave talks with a number of characters from his past including his former band-mate, his psychologist, Kylie Minogue, and bizarrely, Ray Winstone. The subject’s voice, which narrates us throughout is also put to the test as we are taken through Cave’s music making process. Along the way we also meet Bad Seed band member, Warren Ellis, who steals the show, his zany attitude providing a refreshing counterpoint to Cave’s occasionally darker musings. Fans of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, this is one you should not miss if you fancy finding out more about this seemingly complicated antipodean man behind so much music.
Check out the trailers for both movies below, and yes the Nymphomaniac one is probably not that safe for work.
Credit for 20,000 Days on Earth photos goes to Chloë Thomson via Berlinale.de/First photo credit: Berlinale.de