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Friday, 04 April 2014 00:00

'Nymphomaniac: Volume I' fights love with unsatisfying sex + Video

'Nymphomaniac: Volume I' fights love with unsatisfying sex listal.com
Written by Diane Carson
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Danish director Lars von Trier courts conflict: in the content of his films, his Dogma 95 Manifesto, and in appearances. He proved that in 2011 at the Cannes Festival when, at a press conference I attended on "Melancholia," he asserted his understanding of the Nazis. Now von Trier's "Nymphomaniac: Volume I" will encourage further, possibly fruitful, debate.
 

Yes, it contains graphic sexual content, though throughout its nearly two hours divided into five chapters, it foregoes erotic appeal. As the central character Joe says, "I discovered my power as a woman and used it without any concern for others." As a result, little human warmth invites empathy or intellectual involvement.

In the opening minutes, the middle-aged bachelor Seligman finds Joe collapsed in an alley, apparently badly beaten from the evidence of the bruises on her face. As Seligman nurses her, Joe recounts her early years: her definition of herself as a nymphomaniac, her contest with a friend to see who can seduce the most men on a train ride, her juggling eight to ten sexual encounters a night, etc. Seligman contests her self definition as a bad person and regularly interrupts her stories with metaphorical comparisons to fly fishing: reading the river, the biggest fish hiding best, teasing with tempting bait, and feeding frenzies. Their discussions involve math, music, and philosophical forays, alternating stimulating and silly, often not even up to the level of Philosophy 101.

A strong story teller with arresting visual compositions, von Trier invokes our senses: water trickles, fans creak, music ranges from classical to heavy metal, and snow falls lightly. But weak in heart and soul, "Nymphomania" is clinical and cold and lacking in humanity. Joe admits being lonely and feeling nothing.

Charlotte Gainsbourg as the adult Joe and Stacy Martin as her younger self are steady, self-aware, and calm verbally and nonverbally. As Seligman, Stellan Skarsgård remains attentive and responsive. Uma Thurman brings welcome emotion to her role as a betrayed mother of three boys. Shia LeBeouf feels appropriately repressed; Christian Slater alone gets some poetic sensitivity. But on the whole von Trier's film, as with his others, is sad taking, as Joe describes it, revenge against our love-fixated society. In English, "Nymphomania: Volume I" is at a Landmark Theatre.

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