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Cinematographer Manuel Claro Talks the Bearable Lightness of 'Nymphomaniac'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood April 3, 2014 at 3:28PM

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.
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'Nymphomaniac'
'Nymphomaniac'

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."

This article is related to: Nymphomaniac, Lars von Trier, Cinematography, Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.