Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Von Trier's provocative 'Nymphomaniac: Vol. I' is just the beginning

Uma Thurman in "Nymphomaniac: Volume I."
Uma Thurman in "Nymphomaniac: Volume I."
About the movie
Nymphomaniac: Volume I
MPAA rating:
Running time:
Release date:
Sophie Kennedy Clark; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Stacy Martin; Stellan Skarsgård; Udo Kier; Uma Thurman; Christian Slater; Shia LaBeouf; Connie Nielsen
Directed by:
Lars von Trier


From Lars von Trier, the prankster, provocateur, and undeniably accomplished filmmaker, comes Nymphomaniac: Vol. I. (Vol. II opens April 4, if you can stand the suspense!)

A simple story filled with graphic sex and asides about fishing, cutlery, and Edgar Allan Poe, it begins with a man wending his way home through a grim brick maze and discovering a bloody, barely conscious woman. He offers to call an ambulance, but she demurs. All she needs, she says, is a cup of tea. And so it's off to Stellan Skarsgård's little abode, where he cleans her up and puts her to bed, and where she proceeds to tell this stranger why she is such "a bad human being."

She is Joe, played with a flat, sad voice and wan beauty by von Trier's go-to gal, the very brave Charlotte Gainsbourg.

So, it's back to Joe's childhood (played by three or four girls), to her cold mother (Connie Nielsen), and warm, let's-take-a-walk-and-admire-the-ash-tree dad (Christian Slater). But for most of this fablelike look at sexual obsession and sexual destruction, Joe is played by Stacy Martin, a thin, saucer-eyed British model who looks a lot like Gainsbourg's real-life mom in her younger days, the thin, saucer-eyed British model Jane Birkin.

Martin is the teenage Joe, the one who gets deflowered by Shia LaBeouf, hops a train in a competition with her best friend to see who can have the most men, and whose subsequent suitors include tall men, short men, pudgy men, buff men, uncircumcised and circumcised men.

"By the way," Gainsbourg says to Skarsgård, "did you know that if you combined all the foreskins cut off through history, it would reach from Mars and back again?"

The things we learn going to the movies!

Von Trier is capable of apocalyptic majesty (see Melancholia) and raw, jumpy instigations (see Antichrist, if you must). Nymphomaniac: Vol. I is intimate, in-your-face, and, mostly, enjoyably ridiculous. The director deploys porn doubles for the hard-core scenes, and employs Uma Thurman in a hysterical (in all senses) confrontation: as the cheated-on spouse who drags her three towheaded sons to Joe's apartment, where the husband, the boys' father, has just moved in.

"Would it be all right if I showed the children the whoring bed?" Thurman inquires politely, madly.

Of course it is!


Nymphomaniac: Vol. I *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Lars von Trier. With Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 58 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz East





Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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