Critics' Pick

Nymphomaniac Volume Two (NR)

April 4th, 2014
By Michelle Orange
Our story resumes: Having found a love-like feeling for Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), "restful domestic comfort" has, at the outset of Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Volume II, robbed the young Joe (Stacy Martin) of her orgasm. Naomi Wolf documented a similar problem in her 2012 book Vagina; the similarities between Joe and Naomi Wolf end there. For Joe, the loss appears less tied to pleasure than to identity; she eventually resorts to K (Jamie Bell), an elfin bloke peddling his masochistic services out of a clinically furnished office. "What do you get out of it?" the adult Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) asks before her first walloping. "That's my business," K replies darkly. "Don't ask again."

With its dreary pan-continental setting, random chapter headings, wry self-references, and indifferent handling of continuity, the full Nymphomaniac is a jigsaw opus, an extended and exquisitely crafted riff. Story, theme, and character (despite Gainsbourg's captivations) bow to von Trier's gamesmanship, which makes his own promiscuities the film's true subject. The images of sexuality are powerfully sterile, often mordantly hilarious. At one point, two African men argue an orgiastic point of order while a naked Gainsbourg sits ignored between them, framed by the impressive drawbridge of their erections.

By some mitigating, von Trier-ian necessity, the suffering of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is never more wretched than when she finally claws back that orgasm -- it all feels most intimate when Nymphomaniac descends to the gallows.

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