4/5  Vol. I and Vol. II
dir-scr Lars von Trier
prd Louise Vesth
with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Hugo Speer, Maja Arsovic, Ananya Berg, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mia Goth, Connie Nielsen, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier
release Den 25.Dec.13,
UK 22.Feb.14, US 21.Mar.14
13/Denmark Zentropa 3h59
The story of my life: Gainsbourg and Skarsgard

labeouf slater bell
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Nymphomaniac Even at an epic four hours, this may be von Trier's least gruelling movie. With a surprisingly light touch, he takes us on a challenging, involving journey into human sexuality. And despite the notoriously unflinching portrayal of sex, the film is notable for its deep, honest, ultimately moving approach.

When Seligman (Skarsgard) finds a woman (Gainsbourg) unconscious in an alleyway, he takes her home. As Joe recovers from her injuries, she tells him about her life, defined by an obsession with sex since she was 2. "I'm just a bad human being," she says. "I've never met a bad human being," he replies. She recounts her first sexual experience with biker dude Jerome (LaBeouf), who will haunt her life for decades to come. For her love is just lust plus jealousy, although she suspects love might be the secret ingredient for good sex.

Joe's story unfolds in sequential flashbacks (played by Berg and Arsovic as a child, and the remarkable Martin as a teen). With her school pals, she formed a club to seduce as many men as possible, fighting against a love-fixated society. And getting sex is ridiculously easy. She later torments men by responding to their needs randomly, but this cruelty only brings crushing loneliness. And when she finally does fall in love, sex stops being pleasurable. Later, her experiences with men make her an unusually adept enforcer for a loan shark (Dafoe).

Intriguingly, none of this is remotely preachy. Von Trier lets Joe's experiences encompass everything from motherhood to sadomasochism to group therapy for sex addiction. The (ahem!) climactic idea is polyphony, blending of all experiences into one life. And it's gorgeously shot and edited with a lush emotional sensibility. Standouts in the sprawling cast include the ice-cold Bell and the explosive Thurman. Gainsbourg is of course excellent in a difficult role, but it's Skarsgard's performance that's the most thoughtful and provocative.

Seligman's fly-fishing metaphor may feel strained, but religious images and themes continually provoke us to ask deep questions. If you're not religious, why hold on to the concept of sexual sin? Should Joe be praised for giving men pleasure or condemned because she never cared about any of them? Do we develop fetishes, or are we born open to everything and then eliminate them as we get older? Do women feel more guilty about their sexual experiences than men do? Is Joe's story shocking or humorous? There's a lot more that lingers afterwards. And since we see Joe as a strong woman rather than as a degenerate, the film is ultimately a celebration of what it means to be human.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, violence 28.Jan.14

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall