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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nymphomaniac [Vol 1]: The reviews are cumming in

Nymphomaniac [Vol 1]: The reviews are cumming in....


Review: 'Nymphomaniac' Is Lars von Trier's Epic Attempt at a Sex-With-Brains Magnum Opus


Lars von Trier's latest film, "Nymphomaniac," which unfolds in two-parts across four hours in its current edit, is nothing less than the director's bid to make his magnum opus.

While 90 minutes shorter than the version von Trier himself has made (rather than the "abridged and censored" version that hits Danish theaters Christmas Day ahead of its 2014 U.S. release), as it stands, "Nymphomaniac" is indeed a major work that tries and, to a large extent, succeeds to organically synthesize the world, ideas and filmmaking savvy of von Trier in one sprawling and ambitious cinematic fable. Somewhat shockingly given the subject matter, the most stimulating material in "Nymphomaniac" isn't the explicit sex but how sexuality is discussed and understood.

This being a von Trier film, there’s a good deal of humor, too. The director's script includes plenty of inventive sexual inquiry, including a monologue that compares the hunt for sex to fly-fishing and a lengthy discussion of how sexual pain compares to the divide between the Western and the Eastern Church.

The nymphomaniac of the title is Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose life is chronicled for about four decades or so and who narrates her life story to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), an asexual intellectual who's all mind where Joe, the nymphomaniac, is all body. Seligman, a secular Jew, has literally picked her off the pavement, where he found her bloodied and almost unconscious. He's worried about her and wants to call an ambulance, though she insists that's not necessary and that she’s a "bad human being" and it's all her fault. Seligman finds this hard to believe. The story of how she got there encompasses almost her entire life, seen in long flashbacks.
The film is divided into eight chapters. Except for the framing device, Joe's life is mostly told chronologically, from the first time she can remember experiencing erotic pleasure at age seven (with Joe played by Maja Arsovic) on the bathroom floor with her best friend, B (Sofie Kasten), to the tingling sensation she received from a rope between her legs during a primary school gym class. The latter incident is illustrated with a simple yet very effective shot of a the end of a thick rope slightly moving above the floor, suggesting Joe’s somewhere off-screen -- further up.

It's that kind of effective restraint that eases the viewer into Joe’s increasingly more adult world. By the age of 15 (played by impressive newcomer Stacy Martin), she’s a vampish Lolita in a cardigan, plaid skirt and ruby slippers who orders a biker kid with strong hands named Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) to take her virginity -- which he does, in a couple of pointedly calculated thrusts (eight, to be exact, mirroring the number of chapters that make up the movie's story).

Flashbacks to her life with her nagging mother (Connie Nielsen) and more sensitive father (Christian Slater), who's got a thing for trees (hello Freud!), establish that Joe's more tuned into her senses than most people. In short, she's the perfect foil for Seligman, who's all knowledge and no experience -- and thus represents the polar opposite of Joe, who's got no clue about books and famous writers (except in one egregious scene) but excels as an expert at men, copulation and more generally living through her body.
The latter ability is mainly thanks to the teenage B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), who leads a club of young girls who make a deal to have sex with each man only once, as a form of rebellion against love. "Love is the secret ingredient of sex," suggests one of the girls who dares to rebel against the rebels. For Joe, however, "Love is sex with jealousy added," a philosophy that'll make a nymphomaniac of her as she doesn't want to hang on to any man, ever.

Interestingly, at least in this version, most of the sex is relatively tame, with barely any penetration on screen. Even so, "Nymphomaniac" certainly contains more penises, in various states of arousal, than any recent narrative film outside of pornography (actual sex scenes were performed by porn doubles whose heads were then seamlessly replaced in post-production by the heads of the actors).
Of course, the love/sex dichotomy is fertile territory for any film. Soon enough, Jerôme is back in the picture and Joe must to deal with the possibility that she might want to be with him again. It’s almost shocking to discover Jerôme might be the love of Joe's life — especially because this means sitting through a lot more of LaBeouf's toe-curling acting, which is so noticeably different from the generally laid-back Euro arthouse vibe of most of the ensemble that it stands out like a sore thumb.

Jerôme's described as the "image of careless elegance," but instead of careless yet elegant the performance feels awkward and stunted underneath a veneer of Hollywood-style grandstanding. (The film’s entire fourth chapter, dedicated to the hospitalization of Joe's father, played by Slater, suffers from similar problems.)

What resonates most about "Nymphomaniac" are the (thankfully numerous) scenes between Joe and Seligman. Without their back-and-forth discussions about Joe's life, the film might indeed amount to little else than a long list of sexual exploits. Instead, they place Joe's behavior in larger socio-political, historical and emotional contexts, with Seligman drawing on a life of reading and encyclopedic knowledge that no doubt stems from von Trier's own wide-ranging interests, even though a battery of researchers are listed in the credits. 

The film's most delirious example of how the body and the intellect work together, and how this can be translated into film language, lies in the fifth chapter, titled "The Little Organ School."

Immediately after the death of her father, Joe is surprised to find herself wet between the legs, though Seligman explains that it is "common to react sexually to crisis."

Their conversation then turns to her experiences with seven or eight lovers per night in the wake of her father's death and how three of those lovers -- F (Nicolas Bro), G (Christian Gade Bjerrum) and J(erôme) -- stood out, each for a different reason. Yet together these trysts create a polyphony, as seen in the divine music Bach and Palestrina, combining into a harmonious sound.

Joe and Seligman's discussions about these experiences extend beyond what she got out of her relationships and instead focus on how they correspond to certain ideas in not only classical music but also mathematical concepts such as the Fibonacci sequence. These conversations form a delightful intellectual spiel that’s quite a wonder to behold, suggesting there may be some kind of higher logic and reason at work behind what outsiders might simply describe as slutty behavior.

By using music and split-screen in this sequence, as well as archival footage of animals and material specifically shot for the film, one senses both the childlike glee of von Trier as a filmmaker in full command of all the possibilities that his film has to offer and his interest in thinking things through. At its best, the film doesn't strain for meaning but instead treats all of its intellectualizing as a lark that can be taken seriously but doesn't need to be.

However, perhaps it’s best to bear in mind this line of dialog, also from chapter five and uttered by Joe: "How do you think you'll get the most out of the story -- by believing or not believing in it?"
"The Little Organ School" and chapter six, "The Easter and the Western Church (The Silent Duck)," which opens the second part of what's really one long film, best represent von Trier's unbridled pleasure at mixing things of the body and things of the mind. This is especially the case after the introduction of K (Jamie Bell), a young but demanding master with a small battery of women (mostly homemakers, it seems), who come to be his slave for a couple of hours per week. They can sign up but they don't know what they're signing up for; that's up to him, and there's no way the women can make him stop doing what he’s decided to do.

Of course, von Trier uses the sequence to address S-and-M in general but on a more metaphorical level, he's talking about being open to the unknown and its more advanced sister, perfect abandon, concepts that help people achieve great heights in both sex and in life — though not without some risk.
Joe ends up at K’s because she needs to learn to let herself go again. After having settled down with Jerome and having a baby with him called Marcel — no-doubt after Marcel Proust, whose "In Search of Lost Time" is one of the obvious literary influences aside from name-checked works such as "The Decameron" and "1001 Nights" — Joe loses the capacity to orgasm.

An interlude with two African brothers, whom she summons to have sex with her but who don't speak English and get into a fight buck naked, as well as a restaurant scene that features von Trier regular Udo Kier as a waiter, form the comic highlights of the story. Both arrive during the sixth chapter, which is as narratively nimble as chapter five and as brimming with ideas. Together, the two chapters represent the core of the film. Everything leading up to that point is an elaborate and spunky set-up (chapters one through three) or filler (chapter four, which juxtaposes sex and death in a not very original way in clichéd black and white imagery). But chapters five and six make up for all the weaknesses or arty longueurs preceding them.

"Organ" and "Church," so to say, are the highlights or sustained climax of the film -- with chapters seven and eight, in which Joe goes to a sex-addict group and becomes a debt collector for a very shady character (Willem Dafoe), respectively, feeling like concessions to the film's linear and symmetrical narrative structure. They reflect a pressure to wrap things up while throwing in a couple more sexual oddities — notably a passive pedophile (Jean-Marc Barr), which gives von Trier the possibility to insert this no-doubt controversial line of dialog: "Pedophiles who don't act on their desire deserve a bloody medal."

In some passages, it's almost as though von Trier is directly addressing his critics: A few exchanges about Seligman's Jewishness as well as one involving the need for politically correct terms so words such as "niggers" can be avoided never quite find an organic way into the text; instead, they call to mind his infamous "Nazi" comments at a Cannes press conference. Rather than letting his characters speak, it's clear that von Trier is simply trying to stir the pot, something that a film containing so much interesting material doesn't really need.

The ending also suffers from pressure to go out with too much of a bang -- though thankfully, it's not how things conclude but the rapport between Joe and Seligman that lingers as a staging of the eternal battle between mind and body.

After two earlier films with von Trier, "Antichrist" and "Melancholia," this third collaboration represents Charlotte Gainsbourg's most fearless and also finest hour as she carries the film with ease. To say her character isn't easy to love would be an understatement, but Gainsbourg manages to turn Joe into more than just a mouthpiece of von Trier's ideas. She's a living, breathing human being who perhaps lacks the intellectual understanding to analyze what she's doing or why she's doing it -- but whose will to live makes her forge ahead no matter what.

Criticwire Grade: B+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Opening Christmas Day in Denmark, the film should find a welcome audience in its home country. Magnolia will release "Nymphomaniac" on VOD and theaters in March and April. Undoubtedly set to perform well in its immediate release, the film's long-term prospects will rely on whether early word-of-mouth is strong or if audiences will feel let down in their hopes for a more graphic experience.


Film Review: Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’

With his sexually explicit, four-hour magnum opus, “Nymphomaniac,” world cinema’s enfant terrible Lars von Trier re-emerges as its dirty-old-man terrible, delivering a dense, career-encompassing work designed to shock, provoke and ultimately enlighten a public he considers altogether too prudish. Racy subject aside, the film provides a good-humored yet serious-minded look at sexual self-liberation, thick with references to art, music, religion and literature, even as it pushes the envelope with footage of acts previously relegated to the sphere of pornography. Even so, in this cut of “Nymphomaniac,” the only arousal von Trier intends is of the intellectual variety, making this philosophically rigorous picture — which opens abroad on Dec. 25 and domestically in two parts, on March 21 and April 18 — a better fit for cinephiles than the raincoat crowd. 

As an onscreen disclaimer makes clear from the outset, “This film is an abridged and censored version” of von Trier’s bigger, longer and uncut edit, which is said to run five-and-a-half hours. According to a note from producer Louise Vesth included in the press notes, “Technically the changes in the abridged version consist of an editing out of the most explicit closeups of genitals,” though such footage cannot possibly account for 90 minutes of footage (can it?), especially considering that the American version serves up a montage of roughly two dozen flaccid penises, presumably an inventory of its protagonist’s conquests. (Different territories will reportedly see different cuts, according to local decency standards.)

After a hypnotic opening sequence — a back-alley symphony of sorts, featuring the drum of rain on tin roofs — an older gentleman named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds Jo (Charlotte Gainsbourg) bloody and abused on the cold, wet pavement. He invites her back to his sparsely furnished flat for tea and conversation, eager to hear this alluring stranger’s confession. “It will be long and moral, I’m afraid,” Jo warns, and commences to retell her entire sexual history, beginning with the line, “I discovered my cunt at age 2.” That line, sure to spark nervous laughs, sets the tone for a character who cannot abide euphemisms. It is always her “cunt” in question, never something more delicate, and in no time, she’s riding the train in search of partners.

Sex is a game to the teenage Jo (played by Stacy Martin), who forms a club “committed to combat the love-obsessed society.” Seligman listens intently to the story of her deflowering — an unromantic formality at the hands of a lad named Jerome (Shia LaBeouf, who appears naked and erect) — and subsequent blooming as a sexual being. Jo’s tale divides into eight stylistically distinct chapters, which alternate between frosty color and stark black-and-white, with Martin playing the character for the duration of the first volume. Though Martin could conceivably be mistaken for a young Jane Birkin, she’s a bit of a stretch as an early stand-in for Gainsbourg, showing few of the tomboyish qualities of the star’s teenage years, to the extent that one wonders why von Trier didn’t ask Gainsbourg to play the character at all ages.

A model not shy about nudity, Martin doesn’t seem at all awkward, but rather embodies — to riff upon the language of “Lolita’s” lusty Humbert Humbert — a young “nymph.” For Seligman, that word evokes connotations of fly fishing, and von Trier indulges the suggestion by inserting stock footage of the sport. Seligman has a peculiar effect on the shape of “Nymphomaniac,” which has an unfortunate habit of resetting to the framing conversation any time things start to get “good” onscreen — not racy, necessarily, but just as Jo’s story draws auds in, Seligman reliably interrupts with some sort of comment about what it all means.

In that respect, the film appears to be interpreting itself, as Seligman points out cultural references (imposing everything from Christian symbolism to Fibonacci numbers) and offers unsolicited feedback along the way. And yet, there’s nothing to indicate that his reading of the material is correct (at one point, Jo quips, “I think this was one of your weakest digressions,” and begs to continue), rendering him somewhat like another Nabokov character: Charles Kinbote, the second-rate academic who smugly imposes his lesser-minded theories upon a superior poet’s work in “Pale Fire.”

In time, we learn that Seligman is a virgin, a revelation that not only explains his inability to relate to many of Jo’s escapades — which shift from the workplace to her apartment to the hospital where her father (Christian Slater) lies delirious and dying — but also may be von Trier’s way of critiquing critical interpretation altogether. Consider this: Seligman serves as a stand-in for the film critic, a dilettante who free-associates as he listens, drawing educated but somewhat naive conclusions about someone else’s deeply personal life experience. But unlike most critics, Seligman casts no judgment. And yet, by elbowing in whenever Jo’s stories approach relatability, he forces a buffer between the film and its audience, reminding us of the film’s dialectical structure, instead of inviting personal responses.

At the end of “Vol. 1,” having tested the boundaries with countless partners and faced the consequences of her actions — depicted in an unexpectedly amusing confrontation between Jo and one of her lover’s wives (a ferocious Uma Thurman), who insists on showing her children “the whoring bed” — Jo loses sensation where it counts. Regaining her capacity for orgasm will become the focus of the film’s second half, which opens with Jo pregnant via Jerome (still LaBeouf, digitally fused with a body double to appear quite the stud in the sack) and veers into far darker territory.

Those familiar with von Trier’s work will pick up on connections between his earlier films and “Nymphomaniac,” as when Jerome’s offers to let Jo pursue her lost orgasm with other lovers — a point of overlap with Skarsgard’s unorthodox sexual arrangement in “Breaking the Waves.” In the nearly two decades since von Trier unveiled the Dogma 95 manifesto, his work has become increasingly provocative, from integrating real sex in “The Idiots” to figuratively shaking his fist at God with “Antichrist.”

If “Nymphomaniac” feels somewhat tame by comparison, that is surely a reflection of the compromised edit, considering the controversial elements Jo experiments with in the second half: sadomasochism, pedophilia, homosexuality and, most outrageously, a mixed-race three-way. (Any who doubt whether von Trier wants audiences to laugh at the absurdity of it all need only consider the sight of Jo, looking bewildered in a cheap hotel, framed by two visibly excited black suitors.) And yet, the director still intends to scandalize, serving up such images as labia that “open” to reveal an eye and a metal rod inserted into a woman’s genitals.

Still, if von Trier means to challenge the depiction of sex onscreen, the truth of the matter is that people can find far more explicit imagery with a simple Google search. And when it comes to the potency of ideas, his script doesn’t uncover anything that wasn’t previously addressed by Anais Nin, Henry Miller or the Marquis de Sade. In fact, given the film’s overall tendency to describe rather than depict specific memories — the exception being the “Silent Duck” chapter, in which Jamie Bell disciplines and degrades Jo oncamera — “Nymphomaniac” might actually have been more effective as a novel.

But von Trier doesn’t entirely trust the power of his words either, punctuating Jo’s narration with cheeky diagrams and generic stock footage, often to humorous effect. One can hear von Trier’s politics woven into dialogue spoken by each of the characters, as when Skarsgard declares the concepts of both sex and religion interesting, “but you won’t find me on my knees with regards to either.” Later, Jo cuts to the essence of things, rejecting a sex addiction counseling session by announcing, “I love my cunt and my filthy dirty lust.”

The film aims to overcome millennia of shame and judgment toward sexual behavior, though von Trier is hardly the first crusader on this front, and such landmark art films as “Belle de Jour” and “Romance” delve far deeper into the impulses behind aberrant sex. By contrast, “Nymphomaniac” feels curiously devoid of psychological interpretation, rejecting Seligman’s pet theories on that front, while also using the dialogue to address charges of misogyny. Though the film ends with a chapter titled “The Gun” (as phallic a symbol as they come), neither Freud nor Jung factors into von Trier’s design — a relief for any anticipating an incestuous turn from Jo’s father figure.

It’s one thing to declare sex a fact of life and insist that audiences confront their unease at seeing it depicted (or, equally constructive, their intense excitation at its mere mention), but quite another to fashion a fictional woman’s life around nothing but sex. As courageously depicted by Gainsbourg, Jo is ultimately a tragic character. In the film’s best-written scene, she outs a pedophile in deep denial of his own impulses, inadvertently revealing the irony (and promised moral crux) of her situation: Despite all the physical contact she achieves with strangers, Jo suffers from profound loneliness. Her story is a bid for a different sort of connection, over which the ever-cynical von Trier maintains the last laugh, sure to ring louder when the uncut version is unveiled next year.


Nymphomaniac - Part 1: A very physical mental puzzle

Worthy of a novel, the sex life of a young lady following the way of the Cross, with an esoteric reading from the provocative and tormented virtuoso Lars von Trier.

A fascinating work despite it’s slightly chaotic side with a multitude of occult sub-readings and a few pointless provocations slipped in by Lars von Trier on the topic of his alleged anti-Semitism, Nymphomaniac - Part 1 is an added proof of the virtuosity of a filmmaker torn between the flesh and the spirit, a great disturbed artist working on the chaotic border between notions of good and evil, a director navigating from German metal band Rammstein to the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. A whole programme filled and consumed with excess (until the ultimate vanity of mentioning that the film is a “short and censured version”, “without his involvement”) that will hit European theatres as of December 25.


Nymphomaniac: Part One

There’s plenty of flesh (much of it belonging to porn doubles), although the film is rarely, if ever, what most people would call erotic or pornographic. It’s neither deeply serious nor totally insincere; hovering somewhere between the two, it creates its own mesmerising power by floating above specifics of time and place, undercutting its main focus with bizarre digressions (fly-fishing, maths, religion), a ragbag of acting styles and archive footage.

You come for raw honesty; provocation; contradictions; flights of fancy. You also come for brave, committed turns from actresses. And both newcomer Martin and old-hand Gainsbourg anchor these two films with performances you can’t take your eyes off; they’re the calm eyes of Von Trier’s storm.

Is there any sign here of a chastened Von Trier after the ‘I’m a Nazi’ scandal that engulfed him at Cannes in 2011? You only have to hear Skarsgård’s character musing on how non-active paedophiles ‘deserve a medal’ or see Gainsbourg sandwiched between two African immigrants with hard-ons to know the answer. He might not have been in control of the edit of this version of his film (the uncut version will emerge later), but the frank, unflinching and playful two-part ‘Nymphomaniac’ couldn’t have been made by anyone else.

Nymphomaniac: Film Review

A dour modern Scheherazade keeps her interlocutor up all night telling him about a few of what might well be a thousand and one men in Nymphomaniac. Lars von Trier's two-part, four-hour sexual epic has been the subject of endless speculation since the perennial controversy hound began signing up name actors for what he advised would be a hardcore account of a very active woman's sexual life. It is that, although less so than many might have imagined or hoped for. Still, it is never boring and does provoke and stimulate, although not as a turn-on, not remotely. At its core the film represents an intellectual male artist's arduous, wayward, idiocentric, blunt, naughty-boy attempt to address Freud's famous question, “What does a woman want?”

Each two-hour “volume” consists of four chapters and the title of the first one, “The Compleat Angler,” is borrowed from Izaak Walton's venerable book for the easy analogy fishing provides for teenage girls trolling for conquests, a competitive rivalry Joe (Stacy Martin in the flashbacks) signs up for after losing her virginity at 15 to young Englishman Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), whose approach to sex and motorcycles appears equally mechanical.

Joe's brazen friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) goads her into a contest over who can have sex with more men on a train. Dressed like tramps and quite direct in their approaches, both girls make high scores, although Joe wears a blank expression during all her encounters and complains later that it hurt so much she thought she'd never want to have sex again.

In male-written literature, Don Juan-type characters have most often been portrayed with a certain amount of envy and admiration but with the moral caveat of having lived “empty” lives. With Joe, there is no sense of fun, of teasing, of enjoying her powers of manipulation. Nor does she exhibit genuine flirtatiousness or joie de vivre. Part of this no doubt stems from von Trier's own heaviness and melancholic tendancies (although he has directed genuinely funny work, especially The Idiots), but it must also derives from newcomer Martin's inexperience and pervasive inexpressiveness. The whole temperature of a film can be heavily influenced, even determined, by the heat a particular actress provides, so one can only wonder what Nymphomaniac would have been like had von Trier sought and found an equivalent of, say, Julie Christie in Billy Liar, Eva Green in The Dreamers or Jennifer Lawrence in almost anything.

There are flashes of hardcore action during the initial two hours—the odd angle here and there, some insert shots—but mostly the sex scenes look like pretty standard simulation.


Nymphomaniac – first look review


Hang on to your seat back, your Bible, or the hand of a friend. Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac bludgeons the body and tenderises the soul. It is perplexing, preposterous and utterly fascinating; a false bill of goods in that it's a film about sex that is deliberately unsexy and a long, garrulous story (two volumes, four hours) that largely talks to itself. Those naked figures in motion are just a distraction. To blunder in on Nymphomaniac is to catch the sight of a middle-aged Dane masturbating alone in a darkened room. It may be sensational, it might even be art. But I'm not sure it is intended for public consumption.


Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac: First Look


Volume One is easily the lighter of the two halves, with Stacy Martin proving very game as the younger Joe. Unusually for Von Trier, the setting is a faux Britain, rather than a parallel USA, and it is in a bleak, provincial, industrial town that Young Joe meets Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), who will prove to be the one significant constant in her life. Given the subject matter, the tone in the first half is surprisingly light; in sharp contrast to the wilful, knowing Joe, men are portrayed as saps and weaklings, notably in a wonderful scene in which one of her useless lovers, H (Hugo Speer), declares his love for her, bringing down the wrath of Mrs H (a superb Uma Thurman).

The sexual content is, as you might imagine, quite full on, with porn doubles seamlessly spliced in with the cast. The use of so many Hollywood actors – aside from LaBeouf and Thurman, there's Christian Slater as Joe's tree-loving dad – can be distracting, but mostly in the sense that one can only wonder how they were persuaded to sign up for such a bizarre project. But by the time the four-hour mark rolls round, that isn't what sticks in the mind. What does is the way Von Trier has corralled such a sprawling story into a linear narrative, while at the same time fashioning something quite profound and personal out of what seems at first sight to be pure provocation.

UPDATED 12/18/2013

Film review: Bondage, surreal interracial sex and numerous sexual encounters, but Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is more Carl Dreyer than Russ Meyer

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Nymphomaniac, Volume I and II

In advance of its arrival, Lars Von Trier’s two-part feature film Nymphomaniac has been generating huge amounts of controversy and speculation. The film is about the erotic life of a woman “from the age of zero to the age of 50.” And true to billing, it is very graphic in parts. It includes bondage, a surreal interracial sex sequence and footage of numerous other encounters.

Von Trier’s inspiration is more akin to the artistic sensuality of Carl Dreyer than the sexploitation of Russ Meyer, however. This is a serious art house drama with a self-conscious literary structure (the film is divided into chapters) and a frame of reference that ranges from Bach to Fibonacci numbers, from Poe to The Compleat Angler.

It is also yet another addition to the series of melodramas that Von Trier has made about long-suffering, martyred women. In the indignities and humiliations she faces, the main character here isn’t so different from Emily Watson in Breaking The Waves or Bjork in Dancer In The Dark.
Much of Nymphomaniac shows off Von Trier at his best, even if there are moments of prurience and extreme silliness along the way.

As the first film starts, we encounter the crumpled body of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), badly beaten up in an alleyway. She is taken in by a kindly stranger (Stellan Skarsgård) and it’s to him she tells the story of her life.

Volume 1 is the lighter in tone. Joe is played as a teenager and young woman by British newcomer Stacy Martin, an actress with grace, humour and a coltish beauty. We see her as a rebel who sets about seducing as many men as possible and who believes in sex without love. She loses her virginity to Jerome (Shia Le Boeuf), a man she encounters again and again throughout the two episodes of the film. His main attraction, at least at first, is that he has a motorbike and strong hands.

There is a tremendous cameo from Uma Thurman as the aggrieved and furious wife of one of Joe’s many lovers. Christian Slater is also quietly effective as Joe’s tree-loving father. Jamie Bell brings a miasmatic whiff of 50 Shades Of Grey as a sadist.

Between chapters, Gainsbourg and Skarsgård have surprisingly erudite conversations about art, literature and the nature of sexual desire.

At times, Von Trier is guilty of special pleading. When we hear characters discussing the perils of political correctness, you can’t help but think he is making a case for himself. The idea floated in the final reel that Joe is a victim of her gender seems glib coming from him. At times, the film slips into bathos. Nonetheless, Nymphomaniac is a serious piece of work bursting with ideas. Sex films don’t come any more cerebral than this.



UPDATED 12/19/2013

Nymphomaniac: Lars von Trier Up to His Old Tricks





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