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Nymphomaniac
Vol. I & II
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema

Nymphomaniac, the third film(s) in Lars von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy” has none of the transcendent power of Melancholia (2011), but it doesn’t punish the viewer like Antichrist (2009). Instead, this film (which, like the other two, stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as a tortured soul) is merely a dull, silly and excessively long trip into von Trier’s personal obsessions. Of course, we go to this filmmaker’s movies specifically because his obsessions can be so intriguing, but when he fails to connect with anything emotional or spiritual, the films end up as nothing more than simple-minded intellectual exercises. Nymphomaniac, though occasionally comical, does not challenge or excite its viewers; it just lies there on the screen like wet rag. That’s not a good thing for a four hour, sexually explicit art film. It plays like a bleak and pretentious remake of Just Jaeckin’s goofy 1974 soft-core classic Emmanuelle.

Though broken into two volumes (released in the UK and America within a few weeks of each other), this is basically one long film and should be viewed that way (as the second half does not stand on its own). Sometimes von Trier will reward his audiences for sitting through an insufferably dull first half with a riveting second half (as with his Danish television mini-series, Kingdom), but that is not the case with Nymphomaniac. This episodic picture consists of Gainsbourg’s Joe regaling Stellan Skarsgård’s Seligman with tales of her sexual escapades and his laughably absurd reactions. These hours of illicit stories never develop into anything substantial, we never gain any insight into Joe as a character, and the film builds to a climax that is simultaneously predictable and preposterous--quite an accomplishment. 

There are some excellent moments along the way--Uma Thurman has one great scene (though it feels totally out of character with the rest of the film), and Stacy Martin embodies the young version of Joe effectively (though when the transition from Martin to Gainsbourg happens I didn’t buy them as the same person). Perhaps we’re not meant to view Joe as a real woman--the characters in most von Trier’s movies are aspects his personality--but that’s only interesting if it touches on something universally relevant, as it did so beautifully in Melancholia. The film doesn’t even succeed in pushing any buttons. Nothing about Nymphomaniac is at all erotic, nor is it especially offensive. Watching the movie is like having rote, by-the-numbers sex with an old lover you were never all that into in the first place. 

Directed by Lars von Trier
Produced by Louise Vesth

Written by Lars von Trier

With: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Jean-Marc Barr, and Udo Kier

Cinematography: Manuel Alberto Claro
Editing: Molly Marlene Stensgaard and Morten Højbjerg

Runtime: 241 min
Release Date: 25 December 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color