STARRING: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin
Gainsbourg and associates
Trust Lars von Trier (Melancholia), purveyor of statement cinema, to tackle a woman’s voracious sexual appetite with the same ballsy gusto he hurls at every incendiary topic he touches. Nymphomaniac is actually two films, screened back-to-back, and it’s an ugly, challenging, no-holds-barred whopper.
Volume I has a meditative slant as adult Joe (Gainsbourg) impassively recounts her destructive sexual history to a benevolent stranger (Skarsgård), who rescued her, battered and unconscious, from an alley. Joe’s self-esteem is in no better shape. “I’ve consciously used and hurt others,” she confides, “for the sake of my own satisfaction.” So yes, there’s plenty of baldly shot sex strung between esoteric musings but none of it is the least bit sensual, older Joe being wistful and sad while her younger, rampant self (Martin) is a mostly chilly fish.
Volume II sees von Trier travelling to progressively threatening and blatant places on the pleasure-pain spectrum: if his jolting, infernal opus has one cruel mantra to flog, it’s the urgency and burden of ungovernable need.