Judge Daryl Loomis is glad your mom's autobiography has finally been made into a movie.
Nymphomania, a man's invention to make women feel guilty if they break the rules.
Adapted from the novel, Insatiable: The Sexual Adventures of a French Girl in Spain, by Val$#233;rie Tasso, Diary of a Nymphomaniac is erotica with a philosophy. An avowal of promiscuity over marriage, this is a frank and apologetic look at one woman's search for herself through the pleasures of the flesh.
Facts of the Case
Val (Belén Fabra, Lolita's Club) loves sex; it makes her fly, as she puts it. She has gone her whole life flitting between affairs, one night stands, and random encounters with strangers at the train station. Overall, she's fairly happy with her life. She's never seen herself as the marrying type, but there's a nagging feeling that she's missing something. When she meets Jaime (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nowhere), a handsome business man who interviews her for a job, her heart pounds with feelings she's never had before; she's in love and is willing to take the plunge. She thought a real relationship would fulfill her, but she feels imprisoned instead. When Val gets pregnant and Jaime denies his paternal responsibilities, she realizes that it's time to break free and reclaim her happiness.
The most striking thing about Diary of a Nymphomaniac is Val's total lack of shame about her sexuality. Filmmakers don't tend to treat female promiscuity very kindly, so it's notable how boldly director Christian Molina (Rojo Sangre) presents this character. The side characters and the audience can judge her actions all they want, Molina makes sure we understand that Val doesn't care. In a few sizzling frames, the opening montage takes us through Val's sexual history and brings us into the present where she is involved with two different men, neither of whom are very important.
She sleeps with all these men because it feels good, not because she's coping with some long-dormant memories of abuse or anything seedy like that. She's a hedonist and won't be tied down, but nobody gets hurt and she has genuine affection for most of these men (at least those she has formally met). She's good to her friends and aging grandmother (Geraldine Chaplin, Bolero) and, in general, seems like a very nice person (friendly, too…), yet she remains a marginalized figure because of her sexual practices.
Val does feel some longing, however. She understands social mores and knows that, traditionally, a woman pushing thirty should already be married. She wonders if something is wrong with her so, when Jaime wants to take the next step, she's more curious to confirm her thoughts than anything. At this point, one could easily predict that Val finds true happiness in domesticity and realizes her old promiscuous ways were a mistake. I certainly didn't expect the opposite; that settling down is a monstrous thing that strips you of your freedom and dignity.
This anti-marriage stance is bolstered by what happens next. After the breakup, Val terminates the pregnancy and sinks into a deep depression. When she finally snaps out of it, the first thing she needs to do is go find some action. Rather than just going to find some random guy, Val goes whole-hog with her decision and gets a job in a brothel. At first, she likes getting paid for doing what she loves, but just as with Jaime, she ultimately finds prostitution a controlling, suffocating prison from which she must get away from. Equating marriage and prostitution is a rare stance to take, but I welcome the different kind of thinking. Diary of a Nymphomaniac is less pro-promiscuity than pro-freedom. Marriage can work for some people, but forcing these societal norms onto somebody to whom they clearly don't apply is unjust and a spiritual death sentence.
Molina weaves the story around a cavalcade of explicit sex scenes that are as bold and unapologetic as Val herself. He shoots them with a necessary amount of exposure, but without seeming gratuitous; the level of sexuality is perfectly in tune with the subject matter. There's nothing flashy about the filmmaking, but it's efficient and never boring. The film breathes in its performances, however. Belén Fabra is phenomenal in the lead role. It's a brave and uncompromising performance; she bares herself completely, both physically and emotionally. Beautiful and confident, Fabra carries the entire film on her shoulders. It's truly excellent work. The supporting cast holds its own, as well. As Jaime, Leonardo Sbaraglia's transformation from charmer to jealous can is uncomfortably perfect. Geraldine Chaplin is great in her small role as Val's grandmother. She delivers the line above about the invention of nymphomania, a sentiment I couldn't agree with more strongly, with great conviction. She's very believable as Val's dirty-minded mentor, and they have some very nice, loving chemistry together. Great work, all around.
MPI has released Diary of a Nymphomaniac on the IFC Films label in a technically sound but supplementally light edition. The anamorphic image looks good, with bright colors and few transfers. The surround sound is fine, but nothing special. For extras, all we have is a brief making-of featurette and a trailer; nothing really to write home about.
A movie about sex that's serious and erotic without the slut-shaming? Sign me up! If you don't have a low threshold for sexuality, Diary of a Nymphomaniac is definitely worth your time.
Let Val be free. Not guilty.
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