It's explicit. It's long. It's self-indulgent. It’s got Charlotte Gainsbourg sucking off paedophiles and taking a fisting off Billy Elliot. As soon as Nymphomaniac opens with a three-minute shot of a drainpipe (before jolting into life with a snarling Rammstein track) it’s clear that none of the controversy means anything – and it’s clear Lars von Trier is behind the scenes, laughing at the headlines.
For all its blatant provocation, von Trier’s two-part opus isn’t the dirty movie it pretends to be. This is a film that flirts with amorality, self-obsession and self-loathing with an academic’s eye – and not a little sense of humour. Gainsbourg enthrals as Joe, a woman coldly narrating her grim sexual history to a dusty professor (Stellan Skarsgård) who compares her confessions to everything from Fibonacci numbers to fly-fishing.
The first part beguiles, the second bruises – but both need to be watched together as one gruelling, exhilarating whole. Gainsbourg and newcomer Stacy Martin do the heavy lifting (via a few prosthetic vaginas), but there’s standouts in the support too: Uma Thurman utterly heartbreaking, Jamie Bell utterly creepy and Shia LaBeouf utterly out of his depth.
As grandiose as Melancholia, as devastating as Breaking The Waves and as incendiary as Antichrist, it’s von Trier’s most ambitious film by far. Shooting straight from the heart, head and groin – this is cinema that leaves a mark.
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