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Cinematographer Manuel Claro Talks the Bearable Lightness of 'Nymphomaniac'

by Bill Desowitz
April 3, 2014 3:28 PM
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Cinematographer Manuel Claro calls "Nymphomaniac" the ultimate Lars von Trier movie ("Volume II" opens Friday), containing "a fuck you to film school energy that's all over the place," in which the director's pessimism and optimism battle one another. However, after the in-your-face look of "Melancholia," the opus about sex addiction starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard was much simpler to light, despite the greater length and traipsing 55 days through Germany and Belgium.

"Originally, his vision was to do something much more punky and crazy and we tried to do that but it started to feel forced. So it became a balance between an open experience but still wanting to tell a good story," Claro suggests. "The approach was about addiction and I think Lars can relate to this because he suffers a lot from different anxieties. When your body puts you in a condition where it takes control of you, it's very much an illness story, and it was important that the sex wasn't sexy. It was supposed to be a little brutal."

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell in 'Nymphomaniac: Volume II'
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell in 'Nymphomaniac: Volume II'

But what Claro didn't realize until after he saw "Nymphomaniac" was how humorous it is. And never once did von Trier refer to it as the finale of his "Depression Trilogy" (which includes "Antichrist" and "Melancholia"). Take the moment when Gainsbourg describes the horror of being totally desensitized and imagines falling helplessly into water, followed by the analogous image of Skarsgard plunging into his books.

"There are all of these contrasts and it's very playful with ideas in a visual way," Claro continues. "And I think the way Lars did that with her in the water and him with the books is so lo-fi that it becomes funny. For me, it doesn't feel long and heavy -- it feels lighthearted and it moves forward in a good pace. I think the first chapter in the second movie, 'The Eastern and the Western Church (The Silent Duck),' is almost like a whole movie in itself. The whole Jamie Bell section is quite crazy and interesting."


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