C()NTAINS SP()ILERS AND TYP()GRAPHY
Let's get the technicalities out of the way first, shall we? Firstly, and ungrammatically, this is two films. It/they has/have two separate entries on the IMDb, two separate BBFC certificates, and separate credit rolls on each of the two discs. That they come packaged together on BluRay makes no difference. Like Kill Bill, this may be two parts of a larger whole, but the only real difference is that they were made and released at the same time rather than two or three years apart.
Secondly: the onscreen title does indeed replace the letter O in Nymphomaniac with open and close brackets, because, you know, it then looks a bit like a vagina and that's pretty much what the film is all about. Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying in a back alley after a savage beating: he takes her home and looks after her, in return for which she tells him her entire life story which we see in merciless gynaecological detail. From her early years seducing random men into railway lavatories through her literally countless physical relationships, her post-natal inability to be sexually satisfied and her experiments with bondage, punishment and interracial threesomes, we are spared nothing over the four hour running time.
In addition to the unflinching nudity and explicit sex sequences, we also get a surprisingly big name cast indulging in what would ordinarily be described as absolute filth were the film not from one of the major names in arthouse cinema. Though some of the actual hardcore footage is achieved by a combination of digital trickery and porn performers, we still get Shia LaBoeuf and Jamie Bell appearing in particularly graphic scenes of sexual activity, while Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen and Christian Slater show up in non-bonking sequences.
All very well, but is it actually any good? Well, I actually quite enjoyed it, which certainly makes a change from the last two Lars Von Trier films I sat through: Melancholia was occasionally beautiful but mostly highly annoying, while Antichrist was just bunk. This is the third and final part of Von Trier's so-called Trilogy Of Depression and it's the lightest and least offputting. One particular scene has Uma Thurman's freshly spurned wife turning up at Joe's apartment to show her children around her errant husband's new love nest, which frankly feels as though it's from a different film entirely. Maybe he'll do a nice uplifting comedy or superhero epic now? Elsewhere, Seligman's intellectual responses to Joe's stories seem to be attempting to link sex to everything from Bach fugues to fly fishing, which all lead to a nice character reveal towards the end before a final payoff which I frankly didn't buy at all.
To be honest I don't think Nymphomaniac needs to be four hours long - at least 30 minutes could have been cut out of the final stretch without any great loss to the film - and whilst Stacy Martin as the young Joe certainly looks exceedingly nice naked, I can't help feeling that the line into pornography is not just been stepped over but merrily somersaulted over in zero gravity. Really, the characters should be more interesting with their clothes on than off, and if they're not then you're just watching Debbie Does Dallas or Girls Gone Wild or similar. For all that's wrong with Nymphomaniac - grotesque overlength, a needless and occasionally wearing interest in genitals, Shia LaBoeuf's dubious English accent, and one horrible moment where it looks like it's going to reprise the opening to Antichrist - I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable, and enjoyably surprising. Worth seeing, but wait till your mum's gone out for the evening.