Elegantly provocative in characteristic fashion, the first volume of Lars von Trier’s much-discussed Nymphomaniac finds the battered central Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in the caring hands of passerby savior Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter of whom effectively prompts his guest to divulge the beginnings of her downward spiral in unfettered nymphomania. Determinedly self-deprecating in her agreeable opinion of herself, Joe recalls her youth and teenage years as her addiction’s severity visibly increases from one escapade to the next.
In peeling back the tarnished physical and psychological layers of such an affected individual, von Trier does so with predictable panache as Joe irons out the details of her exploits and subsequent motives in sating her sexual appetite. Shot through with an air of engagement brought about by von Trier’s singular creative flair, each chronicled encounter is particularly strong as key individuals and an admirable wraparound arc involving Shia LaBeouf’s Jerome are well-implemented.
Despite the suggested simplicity of the film’s title, Nymphomaniac: Volume I‘s beauty is in its presentation and air of artistic intelligence. As Seligman draws appropriate if occasionally silly parallels to things ranging from fly fishing to Fibonacci, a special combination of base-level entertainment, dark humor and thought-provoking, moreover sexually-inclined substance comes full circle. Even though said sex is front and center when it matters and as graphic as you’ve heard, the unflinching presentation provides an appropriate rawness that should very well coincide with an affliction such as Joe’s.
While not quite a contemporary masterpiece, von Trier’s first half of his latest opus is agreeably close to earning the brand. As it assuredly won’t make new fans out of his preexisting detractors, Nymphomaniac: Volume I is nonetheless a bitingly incisive and singularly passion-infused character study worthy of praise. Remaining uncomfortable as it should be as it rarely falters in the realm of sheer gifted filmmaking, the script’s involving chapter-divided structure never ceases to impress as it deconstructs both the individual and her sickness at its core.