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Review Roundup: Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ Shocks and Enlightens; Lots of Flesh but Rarely Erotic

Review Roundup: Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac' Shocks and Enlightens; Lots of Flesh but Rarely Erotic

First reviews have arrived Lars von Trier’s hotly anticipated “Nymphomaniac,” which hits Danish theaters Christmas Day, and comes to the US in two parts, on March 21 and April 18. Critical reactions thus far are mainly positive, with reviewers describing the film as a provocative ride meant to disturb, shake up discussion and amuse as opposed to arouse. Review roundup below.

The film stars, among many, Shia Labeouf, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier and Jamie Bell. The trailer is here; the film’s naughty poster series is here.

Variety (review of Parts 1 and 2):

With his sexually explicit, four-hour magnum opus,
“Nymphomaniac,” world cinema’s enfant terrible Lars von Trier re-emerges as its
dirty-old-man terrible, delivering a dense, career-encompassing work designed
to shock, provoke and ultimately enlighten a public he considers altogether too
prudish. Racy subject aside, the film provides a good-humored yet
serious-minded look at sexual self-liberation, thick with references to art,
music, religion and literature, even as it pushes the envelope with footage of
acts previously relegated to the sphere of pornography. Even so, in this cut of
“Nymphomaniac,” the only arousal von Trier intends is of the intellectual
variety, making this philosophically rigorous picture — which opens abroad on
Dec. 25 and domestically in two parts, on March 21 and April 18 — a better fit
for cinephiles than the raincoat crowd.

Indiewire (review of Parts 1 and 2):

While 90 minutes shorter than the version von Trier himself
has made (rather than the “abridged and censored” version that hits
Danish theaters Christmas Day ahead of its 2014 U.S. release), as it stands,
“Nymphomaniac” is indeed a major work that tries and, to a large
extent, succeeds to organically synthesize the world, ideas and filmmaking
savvy of von Trier in one sprawling and ambitious cinematic fable. Somewhat
shockingly given the subject matter, the most stimulating material in
“Nymphomaniac” isn’t the explicit sex but how sexuality is discussed
and understood.

This being a von Trier film, there’s a good deal of humor,
too. The director’s script includes plenty of inventive sexual inquiry, including
a monologue that compares the hunt for sex to fly-fishing and a lengthy
discussion of how sexual pain compares to the divide between the Western and
the Eastern Church.

Hollywood Reporter (review of Parts 1 and 2):

Novelistic in its chapter-designated structure, anecdotal
richness and sensitivity to life’s different stages, Nymphomaniac nonetheless
shortchanges its central figure by so narrowly defining her. Despite spending
four hours with her, except when she’s with her father we seldom view her in
anything but a sexual context; she never evinces any other interests and her
reflective comments are invariably narcissistic, if negatively so.

In keeping with this, the entirely game Martin and
Gainsbourg work in a tightly channeled emotional range, one that rarely allows
Joe to look like she’s having any fun.

Guardian (review of Parts 1 and 2):

How was it for you? How was it for me? Nymphomaniac doesn’t
care. It goes about things its own way, in the service of its own pleasure,
manhandling the audience from one position to the next, occasionally snickering
at its own private jokes and daring us to decipher them. Personally I found
this a bruising, gruelling experience and yet the film has stayed with me. It
is so laden with highly charged set pieces, so dappled with haunting ideas and
bold flights of fancy that it finally achieves a kind of slow-burn
transcendence. Nymphomaniac annoys me, repels me, and I think I might love it.
It’s an abusive relationship; I need to see it again.

Time Out London (review of Part 1):

Chaotic and not especially pretty, the film has more of the
punkish, radical spirit of Von Trier’s ‘The Idiots’ or ‘Dogville’ than the
gloss or contained drama of ‘Melancholia’ or ‘Antichrist’ – although the
nominal British setting and interest in religion and a promiscuous woman nod to
‘Breaking the Waves’ too.

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.

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