WEST LOS ANGELES—We're not going to do a review of Lars Von Trier's new movie Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1. After all, it's likely that nobody reading this is going to see the movie for the sex. Actually, that's probably not accurate: Everybody reading this is going to see Nymphomaniac for the sex; they'll just be disappointed at how little of it there is in the roughly two-hour movie. But the trouble for theater owners, not to mention the movie's distributor, Magnolia Pictures, is that every time they show it, they're committing a federal felony, punishable by up to five years in the federal slammer.
We caught the movie Friday afternoon at the Nuart Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard, just off the 405 freeway, and one of the things that interested us the most was the first 30 seconds of the opening credits. That's because, under the federal record-keeping and labeling law, 18 U.S.C. §2257, "Any person to whom subsection (a) applies shall cause to be affixed to every copy of any matter described in paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of this section, in such manner and in such form as the Attorney General shall by regulations prescribe, a statement describing where the records required by this section with respect to all performers depicted in that copy of the matter may be located." And that notice has to be the first thing the viewer sees when the movie begins to play, and if there are closing credits, the last thing the viewer sees before the movie ends.
Now, what that law means by "Any person to whom subsection (a) applies" is, in this case, anyone who "produces any book, magazine, periodical, film, videotape, digital image, digitally- or computer-manipulated image of an actual human being, picture, or other matter which—(1) contains one or more visual depictions made after November 1, 1990 of actual sexually explicit conduct; and (2) is produced in whole or in part with materials which have been mailed or shipped in interstate or foreign commerce, or is shipped or transported or is intended for shipment or transportation in interstate or foreign commerce." [Emphasis added]
And make no mistake, Nymphomaniac is a hardcore film. It contains several "visual depictions made after November 1, 1990 of actual sexually explicit conduct," and since it was filmed in Europe and is being shown here, we're gonna go out on a limb and say that it was "shipped or transported ... in interstate or foreign commerce."
What hardcore, you may ask? Well, before we get to that, let's note that there's plenty of nudity thoroughout the movie, most of it done by Stacy Martin, a 24-year-old actress in her first starring role—in fact, pretty much her first film role ever. Then, in the course of the film, Stacy rubs a couple of guys' cocks through their pants, gives Shia LaBoeuf a blowjob, gets fucked missionarily on a table by some guy (you can see his cock going into something), fucks LaBoeuf cowgirl style on a bed, and gets her pussy licked and clit sucked by a guy she refers to only as "G" (Christian Gade Bjerrum)—or did most of that sex only appear to happen to Stacy?
See, there's a little note during the closing credits that supposedly assures the audience that “none of the actors had penetrative sex and all such scenes were performed by body doubles.” But the question is, are blowjobs and cunnilingus "penetrative sex"? One could easily argue that the b.j. is, but what about the pussy-licking? The film appears to show Stacy's pussy in all its glory, and Bjerrum clearly licks its length, however briefly. But Martin told the website Female First that the vagina was in fact prosthetic, so put its authentic look down to "Hollywood magic." (More on that subject here.) After that, the film returns several times to the image of Bjerrum with his head buried between Stacy's thighs. However, about six or seven people are listed in the credits as "sex performers," most of them only by their first names, and none of whom did we recognize as performers in the European adult industry, though they might actually have been.
And by the way, it's clear that no one attempted to superimpose the sex performers fucking over the bodies of the mainstream actors. It's all done with camera angles and quick cuts, so that'll be of no help to adult filmmakers trying to avoid a condom mandate by digitally removing cocks. Nothing like that happens here.
But the point is, whether any of the hardcore action was performed by mainstream actors or only by hired porn performers, or in some cases between a mouth or pussy and a very realistic dildo or fake pussy, there definitely is hardcore sex depicted in this film—and that makes it as subject to the 2257 regulations as anything put out by the official adult industry.
Anyway, all that said, Nymphomaniac isn't a bad movie, even if the dialog is sometimes pretty boring. For those who want to see the adventures of a sexually-active teen as she negotiates the pitfalls of, first, losing her virginity (to LaBoeuf, who fucks her missionarily three times, then turns her over for five shots to her ass), then engaging in a contest with her best friend "B" to see who can seduce the largest number of strangers on a train, then as she gets a bit older, having (unseen) sex with as many as six or seven guys a day, this is the movie for you.
Two things, however, make the movie stand out. The first is the art direction. As the movie opens, the camera negotiates a sort of alley—almost a maze, really—formed by the corners of a large number of brick buildings that jut out left and right, such that when Seligman Stellan Skarsgård), the movie's older protagonist, goes to the store to pick up some booze, he almost misses the prone, beaten body of "Joe" (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying there, nearly unconscious. Although most of the film's action is shown through Joe's younger self (Martin), the film keeps returning to the conversation between Gainsbourg and her "rescuer" Skarsgård, who presses her to tell him how she got into this mess in the first place. Beyond that, pretty much all of the movie's settings just look right, whether it's Skarsgård's apartment, LaBoeuf's office, Stacy's apartment or the hospital where Stacy goes to visit her dying dad (Christian Slater)—and fucks one of his doctors in a room in the basement.
The other thing that'll make the audience laugh out loud (though in retrospect, we have to wonder whether that's really the appropriate response) is when Stacy tells one of her lovers (Hugo Speer) that he has to leave her apartment (because, she tells us in a voiceover, she's expecting another lover in a few minutes), but within moments, the guy returns, a couple of suitcases in hand, to announce that he's left his wife for her—which the movie thus far makes clear is the last thing Stacy wants. But what's truly marvelous is when Speer's wife, played to perfection by Uma Thurman, decides to "see him off" at Stacy's door—and winds up bringing their three kids along, in part to show them "the whoring bed" where daddy will be spending much of his time from then on. Thurman is a model of controlled rage, spouting pleasantries that barely hide her fury and frustration, which builds and builds to the explosion of vitriol she levies as she finally leaves. Viewers won't soon forget it—and those who loved her in Kill Bill will be reminded how good an actress she really can be.
And did we mention the penis montage?
So our advice is, see Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 while you can, since as several adult producers already know, it's damned difficult to create 2257 records out of whole cloth when the feds come a-knockin'—and if it's true that The Law doesn't play favorites in this country, that should be sometime real soon!
Pictured: Stacy Martin in a scene from Nymphomania: Vol. 1.