I caught the first part of Lars von Trier’s erotic epic at the Sofia International Film Festival. Yes, I watched the film in Bulgaria with several classmates. We were on a spring break trip for an NYU honors society, and we chose to take in the sights and sounds of the city by experiencing the latest in a long line of provocative work from the outspoken auteur.
I came away from the film with mixed feelings. I enjoyed it overall but felt very little emotional engagement with Jo, the protagonist, and thought that Shia Labeouf’s turn as her sometime lover was jarring and strange.
I was, however, enamored with one extended sequence. Featuring Uma Thurman as Mrs. H, the clip below is only the tip of the iceberg in this nearly ten minute long supporting appearance, wherein the jilted wife of one of Jo’s many lovers (the man who appears in the clip) shows up to bid her husband adieu.
The set-up is insane: the husband believes that Jo loves him the way he loves her, unaware that he is just another in a long line of play things for her. Jo, needing to get him to leave her apartment before another suitor shows up, tells him she does love him and says she believes he would never leave his wife for her. Just five minutes after leaving, he shows up, suitcase in tow, saying that he has left Mrs. H for Jo and cannot wait to begin their life together.
When Mrs. H shows up, she brings their three children and begins to wreak emotional havoc. She is at once relieved to know that her husband has fallen for a young, slight thing living alone in a sad apartment and terribly hurt by the crumbling of her marriage. She taunts and teases her husband (and Jo), and eventually becomes overwhelmed. Before she leaves the apartment, she lets out a horrendous cry jangling with innumerable emotional realities.
I have never been so enthralled by Thurman. In just a few minutes she creates an indelible portrait of a long-suffering wife whose world has been turned upside down. She is also hilarious, delivering the absurd dialogue with an entrancing commitment and flipping between varying emotional beats nearly every second.
While the rest of the film feels oddly staid and muted, Mrs. H’s outburst of emotional baggage is undeniably exciting. The scene stuck with me, and now I am sharing a small sliver of it with you. The full film is on Netflix (both parts) and I encourage you to take a look; it’s no masterpiece, but it is enjoyable and daring and, I’ll risk saying, pretty fun despite its bleak end.
Take a look at this humorous and sad clip, and let me know if you bow down to the alter of Thurman as I now do.