Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II
Von Trier's latest is a multi-faceted exploration of sexuality, in all its bizarre, twisted glory
His first film since Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s two-part erotic odyssey is undoubtedly the most anticipated arthouse event of 2014. While the promised five and a half hour ‘hardcore’ version has yet to be released – and may never reach the UK – this watered-down double-bill will be enough for some. Even the posters, showing the cast and their orgasm faces, promise controversy – but then nothing is ever quite what it seems with von Trier.
Divided into eight chapters across the two films, Volume I begins as ageing singleton Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), badly beaten in an alleyway near his home. Taking her back to his flat to recover, she starts to reveal how she became a nymphomaniac: ‘I’m just a bad human being,’ she says, full of self-loathing. Flashing back to her youth, Joe (played here by Stacy Martin) recounts her earliest sexual encounters; notably losing her virginity to Shia LaBeouf’s biker boy.
Seligman proves an amused audience, frequently interrupting to compare her conquests to everything from Bach and fly-fishing to advanced mathematics. There are some stand-out performances, with Uma Thurman (as a slighted wife), Christian Slater (Joe’s father) and, in the increasingly melancholic Volume II, Jamie Bell (as a prim sadist, in the film’s most disturbing sequence).
Is it controversial? Until we see the unexpurgated version that’s hard to say. But compared to this truncated cut, von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist (also with Gainsbourg) arguably has the more shocking moments. True, some scenes – like Joe’s sympathy for a paedophile who never actually abuses a child – feel horribly misguided. But for the most part Nymphomaniac is compelling and achieves exactly what von Trier set out to do: a multi-faceted exploration of sexuality, in all its bizarre, twisted glory.
Limited release from Sat 22 Feb.