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Nymphomaniac Volume I: The Return of Lars

Stacy Martin
Stacy Martin
Magnolia Pictures

Nymphomaniac vol. 1

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After being banned from the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Lars Von Trier wasted no time in getting started on his next controversial film(s) that would cause more of an uproar than his anti-semitic comments did three years ago. The latest film "Nymphomaniac" which is released in two volumes, chronicles the life of a self diagnosed sex addict played by a frequent Von Trier collaborator, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

It was revealed early on that not only would the film be sexually explicit, bordering on pornographic, but all of the sex acts in the film would not be simulated, using CGI to superimpose the body parts of adult film actors over the mainstream actors in the movie.

When asked about the impetus for the film, Von Trier responded, "my DP on [Melancholia], Manuel Claro, at one point voiced a surprising prejudice. He urged me not to fall into the trap that so many aging directors fall into – that the women get younger and younger and nuder and nuder. That's all I needed to hear. I most definitely intend for the women in my films to get younger and younger and nuder and nuder."

Having only viewed the shorter version of the first part, the art house picture will immediately turn off many mainstream viewers. With a thin plot, the film uses visual metaphors to break up long scenes of dialogue. It can never be said that Von Trier's films are not original. Filled with jump cuts, at times pretentious cutaways and an episodic narrative, the film gives originality another definition.

Littered with stars, most notably Uma Thurman, in a breathtaking cameo scene that one wishes lasted through the rest of the volume, the chemistry on screen works all around.

Of course, it's newcomer Stacy Martin, who from certain angles resembles a blossoming Emma Watson, that commands your attention. Playing young Jo, Ms. Martin adds depth Jo's lost soul. It's in the final moments of this volume, however, that Ms. Martin truly shines. Stringing us along through the film with her subtlety and then, like any perfectly orchestrated music piece, allowing us the climax we've been holding on for at the very last moment.

Sex is dealt with in "Nymphomaniac" the way violence is dealt with in "The Godfather," an everyday occurrence, even viewed as a necessity. Familiar with the subject of female sexuality, Mr. Von Trier gives us something more than just sweaty parts and the glorification of the nude body (and there's no nude body part left unexamined by the end of the first volume). We glimpse the harshness of sex, the cruel way pleasure turns into pain and the theme of self destruction through every area of our soul.

Those seeking out the visual Von Trier will find beautiful imagery with a visual metaphor concerning fishing. One scene that shocks as well as inspires involves an older Jo attempting to participate in a threesome with two well hung gentlemen. While the two men argue over "the plan" to have sex with her, we are in a visual triangle with Jo in the middle and the two mens penises in the foreground, fighting their battle. It's a small but wonderful example of Von Trier's idiosyncratic style.

The film, divided into chapters, can be hard to take in one sitting. Hardcore sex, violence, a floating plot and a subject matter too intimate for most viewers to consume, it's a hard film to recommend and yet to appreciate true art, all of Von Trier's films must be seen. As Von Trier and his subjects fear nothing, we as the audience need to open ourselves up, let go of our self inflicted censorship and let art, uncomfortable as it may be at times, into our hearts.

Both volumes of "Nymphomaniac" are playing in selected cities.