Review: ‘Nymphomaniac’ (R) ****

FOUR stars for Lars von Trier’s massive (236 minutes) two-part film, screening in Canberra as one, reflect its cinematic values less than its unabashed treatment of a topic that “polite” society tends to avoid discussing.

nymphomaniac_largeWomen too often find awareness and appreciation of their sexuality diminished in a society that gives more attention to its male counterpart. While “Nymphomaniac” gives significant attention to male sexuality, men cannot be nymphomaniacs.

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying bashed in an alleyway. In his flat, he tends to her injuries, gives her food and asks how she came to be there. So begins Joe’s eight-chapter warts-and-all account of her sexual life from eight years old when she and her chum B lock the bathroom door, take down their knickers, while otherwise fully clothed pour water over the tiles and slide around on them. Children need protection from sexual exploitation by adults, but their sexual identities will develop in their own time.

Von Trier stages the stations of Joe’s sexual life driven less by eroticism than unflinching verbal and visual frankness. A fine cast includes Uma Thurman as a mother abandoned by a husband (Hugo Speer) obsessed by Joe’s unrestrained randiness; Shia LaBeouf as an employer who pops into and out of Joe’s life with ultimately awful consequences and Willem Dafoe as an employer who recognises Joe’s value as a debt collector.

For its ending, a well-written short story should return to its beginning. “Nymphomaniac” honours this canon. By all means commend it to friends, but don’t reveal what that involves.

At Palace Electric

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