Lars von Trier sets out to ruin audiences’ sexual fantasies with his latest provocation, “Nymphomaniac.”
The examination of a young woman's journey through the bedrooms, back rooms and wherever else Europeans make the beast with two back is currently available on demand. It hits theaters on March 21. Not content with limiting his exploration of on-screen coitus to one film, a second part will debut in theaters next month. Clearly, endurance is not an issue with the Danish master.
Part one has scored with critics, who have taken the odd pot shot, but nevertheless found the experience pleasurable, rewarding it with an 86 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It stars Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Uma Thurman in various states of undress.
For The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, “Nymphomaniac” has a beating heart that elevates it above past von Trier instances of cinematic bomb throwing. He credited the picture with having a certain “pulpy brilliance.”
“For the very first time, I think Von Trier has given us a film without any of the tiresome hoax provocation that has always been a part of even his most admired works,” Bradshaw wrote.
Sex may be its selling point, but “Nymphomaniac – Part I” is concerned with more than just slipping between the sheets, IGN's Joe Utichi argued.
“Von Trier once more upsets his doubters, by delivering a film that's at turns funny and frank, and that prods and pokes at the line without ever needing to cross it,” he wrote.
L.A. Weekly's Amy Nicholson seemed surprised that the penetration was mostly of the emotional variety. Come for the montage of flaccid penises, stay for the psychological insights, she argued. Nicholson said that the first film left her wanting more.
“I'll be sad if this devolves into a film where promiscuity gets punished – and I'm still nervous that there's an ‘Aha!’ moment ahead where she turns out to have been molested by her devoted father, Christian Slater,” Nicholson wrote. “Yet if this surprise screening of the first half of ‘Nymphomaniac' is his way of luring us to watch the rest, consider me seduced.”
The shifts in tone and time dazzled Time Out's Dave Calhoun, who noted the film deftly veers between tragedy and X-rated farce.
“There's plenty of flesh (much of it belonging to porn doubles), although the film is rarely, if ever, what most people would call erotic or pornographic,” Calhoun wrote. “It's neither deeply serious nor totally insincere; hovering somewhere between the two, it creates its own mesmerising power by floating above specifics of time and place, undercutting its main focus with bizarre digressions (fly-fishing, maths, religion), a ragbag of acting styles and archive footage.”
New York magazine's David Edelstein admired von Trier's camera work, but felt his screenwriting could have used some polishing.
“The film's frame is anything but extraneous: It's where all the hefty philosophizing happens,” Edelstein wrote. “Von Trier intends to be dazzlingly ironic and perhaps to send up his own pretensions, but the whole thing sounds like badly translated Ibsen (‘I've always demanded more from the sunset').”
Those minor quibbles paled in comparison to David Edwards’ evisceration of the film in the Daily Mirror.
“Will you be shocked, outraged, titillated?” he asked. “No, just bored.”
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