Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Nymphomaniac Volume I’ Review: Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin & Shia LaBeouf

Director and writer Lars von Trier (2011’s Melancholia) uses his distinctive grim-like storytelling as we follow a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, who recounts her erotic experiences to a man after he has saved her from an aggressive beating.

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) has just discovered Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) nearly beaten to death in the streets of London. When he says he will call for an ambulance, she tells him not to bother, but requests a cup of tea with some milk instead. Puzzled by her response and knowing that Joe needs serious help, Seligman takes her back to his place and looks after her. While he tends to her, Joe dives into her life story, from her first sexual encounter to finding the first man she fell in love with.

The majority of the film is told through flashbacks where we see a young Joe (played impeccably by newcomer Stacy Martin) as she goes through her various encounters with men. We first see Joe losing her virginity to Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) and then later as her friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) encourages her to sleep with as many men as possible on a random train. Joe’s mother (Connie Nielsen) seems distant, but even with a loving and doting father (Christian Slater), we wonder how Joe becomes obsessed with this lifestyle, which eventually leads her on a path of self destruction.

Charlotte Gainsbourg narrates Volume 1, while we see the young doppelganger Stacy Martin as Joe. Martin proves her acting chops in his first feature film and captures the innocence and emotional turmoil young Joe experiences. Her chemistry with LaBeouf, who is also quite good, is fantastic as we see their relationship flourish throughout the course of the film.

Lars von Trier may not appeal to the average audience, but the director does have a way of approaching his subjects and shocking the audience with his provocative storytelling. I can’t say this film is as appealing to me as Melancholia was, but it probably is just as good of a film. von Trier’s style isn’t so much over-the-top as it is frank, slamming the subject matter in the audience’s face, take it or leave it style.

It’s a shame Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac was split into two films, as Volume I feels incomplete and ends rather suddenly. But he succeeds in showing what a powerful and uncontrollable addiction does to a person’s health and self-worth. A young and naive Joe may think she knows everything about sex, but as her friend B later learns and tells her, “The one ingredient you’re missing in sex is love.”

Nymphomaniac Volume 1 and Volume 2 are now available to rent on Stay posted for my review on Volume 2.

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