"Nymphomanic Volume 1" Review: Craig's First Take

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A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating.
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Mr. Brightside is at it again! Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier again combines uncomfortable sexual situations with mental illness in “Nymphomaniac”, the first of a pre-planned 2 part film that chronicles one young woman’s erotic journey from Milan to Minsk..oh wait that’s Seinfeld’s “Rochelle Rochelle”.

It’s actually about Joe, who we first see played by Charlotte Gainsbourg (no stranger to getting her hands dirty with Von Trier as she also did “Anti-Christ” and “Melancholia”), lying bloodied in an alley. She is taken in by a kindly, philosophical man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) who proceeds to listen to her story of how she became more and more acquainted with her private parts throughout her life.

Is it a dirty story? Actually not as much as you might think. The image of a 2 year old dragging herself over the floor for stimulation is going to ruffle some feathers but overall this is a movie (Volume 1 anyway) about emptiness, about being pre-programmed against the complications of love and just reducing the idea of intimacy with another person into an impersonal game.

However Von Trier shows us just enough later on in scenes chaptered beforehand as “Delirium” to make us believe that that emptiness is going to be analyzed further in Volume 2.

There is some terrific acting work being done here, first from Gainsbourg, whose character we will see go from detached sexuality to shamed rock-bottom by the end of this thing, and Skarsgard as the comforting, therapeutic listener (although the comparisons he makes between her life and music + flyfishing reeks of overanalysis). Stacy Martin, as the teenage Joe, anchors it well with a seductive innocence and Shia LaBeouf comes in and out as either a true love or irresponsible creep. But the two performances that really stay with you here come from a biting and distraught Uma Thurman, as a woman whose husband has been stolen by Joe, as well as surprisingly Christian Slater, giving his best performance in decades as Joe’s father, the only person she knows for a fact she really did love.

Von Trier gives us all the nude shots and unsimulated sex (actually done by imposing porn star genitals over the ones of the actors so anyone hoping to get a glimpse of some A-list porn will be disappointed) we could possibly want but he continuously keeps this film both provocative and moving, and leaves us wondering what volume 2 could possibly hold.