Movie Review: Nymphomaniac: Volume I

By Stephen Rebello

<p>Lars von Trier's saga delivers plenty, but no cheap erotic thrills.<br></p>

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: NR

Studio: Zentropa

Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater

Don’t rush to Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s latest cinematic provocation expecting a cheap erotic thrill or two, because the director’s saga about a nymphomaniac named Joe is anything but. Very funny, wacky, cringe-inducing, twisted, troubling and graphic, yes, but sexy? No. The sardonic, slow-burn movie gives us Charlotte Gainsbourg, in a deeply inscrutable performance, as a woman who relentlessly and desperately pursues sex the way a junkie chases the high, without gaining much pleasure or insight from it. She wants color, sensation, impact, feeling, but never really finds it. We’re introduced to Joe when she’s found in an alley, beaten and bloody, by a good-hearted stranger (Stellan Skarsgård), whom she tells, “I’m just a bad human being.” The kindly stranger restores her health, and she recounts her life to him in flashbacks (in which she is played as a younger woman by Stacy Martin), which includes child abuse, dealing with the agonizing death of her father (Christian Slater), S&M, every sexual permutation imaginable, losing her virginity to a motor scooter–driving Shia LaBeouf, servicing men of every age aboard a train, and, yes, even a penis montage.

It’s an episodic movie, of course, and even Uma Thurman storms in playing the long-suffering wife of one of the heroine’s lovers; she comes on like a blowtorch and leaves quite a burn. Like Skarsgård’s character, von Trier refuses to judge or to point an accusatory finger. But he certainly does intellectualize and keep at arm’s length Joe and her plight. Volume II hits theaters on April 4.


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