Nymphomanica (Vol 1 and Vol. 2): The girl can’t help it

In the tradition of Kill Bill, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and even Return to Nuke ‘Em High, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac has been divided into two volumes, thus allowing the acclaimed filmmaker and perennial provocateur free rein to indulge his every cinematic whim. This is what endears him to his champions and damns him to his detractors. This is one filmmaker who will defy convention, good taste, and even logic.

Two of Von Trier’s frequent actors, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard, star in the film. She plays Joe, the nymphomaniac of the title, and he plays Seligman, who discovers here, battered and bleeding, in an alley. He takes her home and she begins recounting her promiscuous past to him, which is conveyed in terms certainly more explicit and graphic than mainstream cinema. (The film is being released without an MPAA rating, and most certainly would have received NC-17.)

Von Trier doesn’t so much tweak conventions as poke and jab at them, and has no hesitation in going off on unexpected (and occasionally unfulfilled) tangents. Sometimes this brazenness pays off – and does so here at times. But too often Nymphomaniac rambles into repetition, both in the retelling of Joe’s sexual history and the film’s overall narrative. The symbolism is intentionally overt and sometimes satirical and the sex plentiful and graphic – although not very erotic.

Joe’s sexual encounters gradually, increasingly become more extreme and humiliating, yet she’s singularly unable to prevent herself from getting into compromising – and compromised – positions, both literally and figuratively. To what end, however, is certainly subject to interpretation, and with all due respect and impatience, the film’s focus is frequently compromised by the four-hour running time (of both volumes combined).

In addition to Manuel Alberto Claro’s evocative cinematography, von Trier can always be counted on to attract an eclectic cast – and Nyphomaniac is no exception. Along with such “regulars” or semi-regulars as Gainsbourg, Skarsgard, Willem Dafoe and Udo Kier (briefly glimpsed as a flustered waiter), there are appearances by Christian Slater, Connie Nielsen, Jamie Bell, Jean-Marc Barr and Uma Thurman.

Gainsbourg again acquits herself fearlessly under von Trier’s direction and equally fearless newcomer Stacy Martin impresses as the young Joe – although the two actresses don’t much resemble one another and the character remains dour throughout. Skarsgard, as Joe’s confessor figure, offers earnest and sometimes loquacious reflections to the carnal memories she unhesitatingly shares with him. Nymphomanic plays out like a very long therapy session, to say nothing of a seamy, frequently squalid, and frankly pretentious one.

Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1 and Nymphomaniac, Vol. 2 are scheduled to open Friday. !

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