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'Nymphomaniac: Volume 1' is a unique take on sexuality

Nymphomaniac: Volume I


Director Lars von Trier unleashed the uncut version of latest film, “Nymphomaniac” at the Berlin Film Festival. The uncut version has a lengthy runtime of four-and-a-half hours, but in the United States, “Nymphomaniac” has been split into two movies with each film garnering a runtime of two hours.

Joe (Charlotte Gainsboug) tells Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) about her childhood and what led her to being a nymphomaniac.
Magnolia Pictures

The film starts off with nothing but sounds of raindrops splashing somewhere in the gutter, von Trier gives you a full dose of German metal rock band Rammstein as a kind gentleman named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in a ally who has been beaten up and takes her back to his apartment to care for her. When the woman, who calls herself Joe, wakes up, she confesses to Seligman that she is a nymphomaniac and begins to tell her woeful story about sexual escapades.

Joe, along with her best friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark), discovered their sexuality at a very young age. They also would compete with each other in a memorable sequence where they see how many men they can have sex with on a train with the winner getting a sweet concoction for her reward. With B and a bunch of other women, Joe would form a club that is dedicated to rebelling against love as they chant, “Mea Maxima Vulva” over and over again. Stating that love is nothing but lust mixed with jealousy, Joe isn’t interested in finding a significant other as he sleeps with up to 10 men a day.

While some moviegoers might deem “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1” as pornographic due to the explicit nudity and sexual content, it so much more than about sex and naked bodies. It is a provocative story about how one woman’s complicated and dark journeys she went through that lead to her lying in an alley beaten and bloody. With this film, von Trier pulls off unique cinematic tricks from shooting in black and white to using split-screens to keep the movie interesting visually.

The movie goes back and forth between Joe’s flashback and her in Seligman’s apartment telling her story with Seligman often interrupting her with metaphors to her sexual tales by comparing it to things such as fly fishing and the Fibonacci numbers. One particular metaphor that is executed beautifully by von Trier is in the last chapter as Joe compares her lover to three different melodic tunes in Seligman’s favorite piece of organ music. The way von Trier visualizes this sequence with the use of cross-cuts and split-screens is truly unique and unlike anything I’ve seen in recent movies before.

While Gainsboug and Skarsgard are the storyteller and listener in “Volume 1,” they do a good job in setting up for the next portion of the movie from what is seen in the teaser for “Volume 2” during the end credits. Stacy Martin does a great job with her movie debut as young Joe in a brave performance where she physically and emotionally displays herself for moviegoers to see. There are interesting performances that play important factors to Joe’s life including Christian Slater as Joe’s father and Shia LeBeouf (using a bad English accent) as one of Joe’s lovers, but Uma Thurman delivers a tremendous performance in short amount of time as the wife of one of Joe’s lovers in one of the most awkward moments in the film. As Mrs. H, she has no shame in showing her children where the “whoring bed” is located and making Joe feel bad about what she is doing to Mrs. H’s family.

With “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1,” von Trier has a good thing on his hands with this tale of a young woman’s sexual conquests as it looks like he is setting up for a dark and harrowing tale to be told in “Volume 2.”

“Nymphomaniac: Volume 1” is now playing at the Cosford Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque and the O Cinema Wynwood. Click here for showtimes.

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