Diary of a Nymphomaniac

Year: 2008
Production Co: Canonigo Films
Director: Christian Molina
Writer: Cuca Canals
Cast: Belén Fabra

It's very strange how long this film has stayed with me. I really wanted to think of it as ridiculous and trashy but there are so many unexpected flourishes in what's essentially an arthouse European smut drama I just can't. At several points throughout the movie, if the script and acting had been just a little bit worse it could have been a Tinto Brass movie, but he never gave such a base topic such emotional scope.

The story basically deals with modern Spanish girl Valérie's (Belén Fabra) love of sex and the trouble its pursuit gets her into. After getting the sort of advice from her aging grandmother about sex and love you only ever see in European films, Valérie embarks on an odyssey to get what she wants the way she wants it. To the credit of the characterisation (and in something that would never fly in an American movie) she never deviates from her goal of total sexual fulfilment, it's just the judgement of society and the treatment of the men she seeks it from that stand in her way.

In one telling subplot she meets and falls for a wealthy corporate type who ends up being a garden-variety jealous psychopath, coming to her workplace to scream at her and telling her he'll kill her and himself if she leaves him. The lesson seems to be not only that you don't need love to enjoy sex, but that it will only get in the way and cloud your judgement.

It's just one of the many adventures and misadventures with men and sex Valérie gets herself into to go after what she wants. Another is when she works at a brothel, figuring it will at least be a way to get as much sex as possible. Once again however, men end up controlling and abusive to her.

There's a lot in Diary of a Nymphomaniac that's tawdrier, more manipulative and heavier handed than most European sex dramas. You're never sure if the script is the problem or whether some essential idioms of the language have been lost after some clumsy translator has done the English subtitles.

But, more crucial than the delivery, it might be a feminist statement for the ages. It's not about a woman who loves sex who gets over or is cured of it through marriage or motherhood – the way most Western stories deal with sexually active women.

It's the story of Valérie seeming to understand and comes to terms with her sexual hunger, learning to love it and herself because of it and being okay with pursuing it. As we see in the final scene after she comes home from running through the rain, she meets a shy but handsome young boy in the stairwell of her building and confidently invites him upstairs, telling him she wants to fuck him with a happy and expectant smile on her face.

And then there's that final rain sequence itself, which moves the whole film somewhere you never expect. When she reaches her lowest point, Valérie goes out at night to walk around her neighbourhood in desperation, walking the streets and twirling in the rain, seeming to find peace and redemption with herself (and by simply deciding to stop resisting her urges, based on the stairwell proposal that comes after).

It's accompanied by the most heart-rending, uplifting piece of music Рsomething that might accompany a scene like the hero walking through the flames to freedom or the inner city kid winning a prestigious college award, of the titanic overcoming of adversity. It makes Val̩rie's struggle feel sweeping and epic and gives it a real storybook quality even though we're talking about a woman coming to terms with being a self-described nymphomaniac.

It's weird, genuine, a bit exploitative and a bit amateur all at once.

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