Words by James Zarucky

At a 2011 Cannes International Film Festival press conference, organisers had to evict Melancholia director Lars von Trier after he admitted to sympathising with Hitler. It was not long after this scandal that von Trier began to tease the media with details of his next project.

Given the prankster persona that von Trier has cultivated over the years, many were unsure of how to greet the news that he intended to embark on a film titled Nymphomaniac, which would chart the epic sexual history of a single female character.

Fast-forward to 2014, and it’s now evident that von Trier was nothing less than sincere about his ambitious project. Nymphomaniac premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this year as a five-and-a-half hour uncut version. For its theatrical release, the film has been edited down to a somewhat less daunting pair of volumes, each two hours long.

The film opens as self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg; her younger self is portrayed by Stacy Martin) is found—beaten and abandoned in an alleyway—by a genial older man named Seligman (Stellen Staarsgard). After taking her back to his home, Seligman patiently listens to Joe as she outlines, over eight chapters, her many erotic adventures. While these adventures involve a parade of male conquests, one of the few recurring male figures in Joe’s life story is Jerome (Shia Le Bouf), with whom she has her first sexual encounter as a teenager.

The present day dialogue between Joe and Seligman acts as a bridging device between the film’s chapters, which range in tone from the brutal to the humorous. Common to all chapters, however, is a refusal to concede an inch in the unflinching depiction of Joe’s carnal escapades. This isn’t the first time that von Trier has shown unsimulated sex on screen, but the director takes things one step further in Nymphomaniac. Computer-generated imagery places films of the stars from the waist up onto films of body doubles, who were shot actually carrying out the act itself.

In spite of its sprawling nature, Nymphomaniac proves to be an engaging experience for its full four hours. Providing a much-needed counterpoint to the often gruelling nature of Joe’s stories are the humorous punctuations offered by Seligman’s pseudo-intellectual ramblings. And despite the explicit nature of the film, the breadth of thematic and narrative territory covered makes it clear that von Trier is aiming for something beyond mere provocation.

But exactly what that something might be is left wide open for endless speculation. Moreover, many would be forgiven for wanting to avoid an over-earnest academic analysis of the film—a phenomenon that Von Trier clearly mocks in the form of Staarsgard’s bookish interlocutor.

Nymphomaniac will undoubtedly go down as one of 2014’s most fiercely debated and critiqued cinema releases. This fact alone is justification enough to take a chance on von Trier’s latest incendiary contribution to the cultural conversation.

Nymphomaniac Official Trailer from Zentropa on Vimeo.

Words by Duncan Caillard

Lake Bell’s directorial debut, In a World, is a quirky yet charming romantic comedy about breaking into the competitive world of Hollywood voiceovers. Having just been evicted from her prestigious father’s home, Carol Solomon (played by Bell, who incidentally wrote the film as well) must determine her own place in life outside her father’s shadow.

A strength of the film is its exploration of the often-overlooked corner of Hollywood that is the voice over, without getting bogged down in details. While cinephiles and aspiring sound designers are more likely to jump headlong into the world than a run of-the-mill muggle, the whole movie is nevertheless very accessible.

Its humour is quirky yet surprisingly grounded, a good portion of the laughs rising from simple, human relationships as they breakdown, are remade, and start altogether. The cast is strong, giving the film a sense of closeness and joviality, which is contemporary romantic comedies often miss. The end result is a cosy 90 minutes of character-driven comedy which remains taut and engaging. Despite all this, it still manages to seriously discuss the lack of female voices in the media without being invasive, challenging the audience to rethink the role of a gendered voice in media.

While it can feel a little didactic at points, particularly near the end, this only adds to the film’s quaint charm, having the added bonus of letting you leave the cinema feeling as if you’ve learnt something.

Ultimately, In a World is a crisp, endearing and occasionally very funny film with something clear and meaningful to say. While quirky and distinct, its a well-constructed film that can appeal to a wide audience. While not groundbreaking, it still makes for an excellent movie.

In A World is in Australian cinemas from 3 April.

Words by Duncan Caillard

Launched in June 2009, National Theatre Live broadcasts the best British theatre ‘live’ to select cinemas around the world. From world-renowned productions of Shakespeare to international blockbusters like Warhorse, National Theatre Live distributes world-class theatre to an international audience who would otherwise be unable to get to the West End.

Now available to an Australian audience, the near-live broadcast of Warhorse captures a great deal of the magic of the original stage production, which ended its Melbourne run last year. All for the price of a movie ticket.

Warhorse follows the relationship between a boy and his horse in the lead-up to World War I, and the quest for each other in the horrific shadow of the conflict. Brought to life through the use of stunning puppetry and design, Warhorse is truly a marvel to experience. Touching, well lit and often incredibly funny, the play itself is a theatrical triumph. Aside from the horses, which are themselves mechanical masterpieces, the film is highlighted by the hauntingly beautiful vocals of singer Ben Murray and a particularly hilarious scene-stealing goose.

Warhorse’s success as a broadcast hinges on how successfully it can bridge the disparate mediums of film and theatre. Thankfully, it successfully achieves this balance. Both the sound and cinematography are excellent and do a great deal to capture the magic of the stage play. However, as is always the case when collapsing three dimensions into two, a degree of depth is lost in the transmission.

Ultimately, National Theatre Live’s broadcast of Warhorse serves as a fitting facsimile of the original production . For those of us who weren’t lucky enough to see it in the first time around—or who loved it so much that they’d like to see it again—the live broadcast of Warhorse is a terrific way to catch an extraordinary play.

Words by Kristen Calandra

The spirited instruction “Aim High in Creation!” from the late Kim Jong-Il’s 1987 manifesto, The Cinema and Directing, doubles as the title of this playful documentary from writer/director Anna Broinowski. Aim High in Creation! is an experimental project following Broinowski and her team of six actors as they collaborate with big names from the North Korean film industry. Their motive: to make a propaganda film against the drilling of coal seam gas (CSG).

What initially seems like a straightforward documentary about CSG turns into a fascinating comment on ideology. But the intention of Aim High isn’t always clear. Maybe this is because it is almost a kind of a propaganda film in itself. At times it presents itself as a sincere indictment of the harmful effects of CSG, but the overall tongue-in-cheek tone somewhat undermines the sincerity of this. As a result, a serious and emotional interview with a farmer comes as a bit of a surprise, and only serves to heighten the initial uncertainty about where exactly Broinowski is going with Aim High.

By its conclusion, Broinowski’s point becomes a little clearer: that less of a barrier exists between even the most politically opposed of cultures (in this case the capitalist-leaning Australia and the socialist-leaning North Korea). Aim High in Creation! is about the universality of protest, that “people power” is not just a by-product of socialism, it is “the one weapon we share.” The film is an original effort that proves to be engaging, even if the distinction between sincerity and satire is sometimes blurred.

Aim High In Creation is screening exclusively at Cinema Nova from 27 March

Words by James Zarucky

Upon its release, The Wind Rises was initially marketed as legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature, the swan song to a remarkable career overseeing some of the most iconic animations of all time. As many would be aware, this wasn’t the first retirement announcement by Miyazaki, the founder of the venerable Studio Ghibli. However, at the time of writing it is looking increasingly unlikely that he won’t be stepping back from an active involvement with the animation company any time soon.

Should it indeed turn out to be his last directorial effort, The Wind Rises serves as a graceful coda to Miyazaki’s formidable body of work. The film is a fictionalised biography of Jiro Horikoshi, an engineer responsible for designing aircrafts that were used by Japan during World War II. Though Horikoshi didn’t possess the nationalistic zeal of his colleagues, his desire for technological innovation meant that his designs were of great interest to military commanders. The protagonist’s ambivalence towards the deployment of his inventions reflects broader tensions which emerged within Japanese society during WWII and in its aftermath.

As a nation which has always been at the cutting edge of technological development, Japan has often had to grapple with the moral dichotomy brought about by its ability to produce machines capable of inflicting great devastation against its tendency towards strategic pacifism in the post-war period. While just as stylistically breezy and light in tone as many of Miyazaki’s previous Studio Ghibli features, the film has been received somewhat controversially in Japan due to its subject matter, as the nation is in the midst of revising long held policies which place limitations on the size and scope of its defence capabilities.

Many will be tempted to view this film as a companion piece to Grave of The Fireflies, Isao Takahata’s 1988  exploration of Japan’s involvement in WWII (also produced by Studio Ghibli). Such an attitude, however, would overlook the fact that this film doesn’t quite reach the same level of emotional gravitas. Its approach is arguably a bit too much on the reflective side, but there is still much pleasure to be found in the beauty of the animation and accompanying musical score. Though it probably won’t be placed in the upper echelons of the Studio Ghibli canon, The Wind Rises should nevertheless be a welcome treat for anime fans.