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

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood December 17, 2013 at 11:42AM

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.
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"Nymphomaniac"
"Nymphomaniac"

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.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Lars von Trier, Lars von Trier, Nymphomaniac


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.