The nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg & Stacy Martin) tells a stranger (Stellan Skarsgård) about her life and sexual development. Lars von Trier's film is fearless, sexually explicit, but not pornographic, but enlightening and very humorous.
One night Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) helps a stranger, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who he finds lying on the street after an accident. Seligman takes Joe home and offers her a place to stay for the night. Joe is blaming herself for the accident and speaks of her sinful life, but Seligman does not believe in sin. To exemplify what she means, Joe starts to talk about her live, how she discovered her unbridled sexuality as a child, contested her best friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) as a teenager for sexual encounters, and later getting involved with many different men, like Jerome (Shia LaBeouf).
I'm not a big fan of Lars von Trier. As a teenager, my first, rather dissuasive contact with his work was "Breaking the Waves". Then again I liked "Dancer in the Dark" and that softened my dislike, even "Dogville" was okay. I tried his series "Ghost" and other movies like "Antichrist" or "Melancholia", but I did not really like those. Accordingly, I was a bit skeptical to see the world premiere of (of all things) the long version of "Nymphomaniac Volume I" at Berlin Film Festival.
That being said, all my reservations were unwarranted and the gathered members of press laughed heartily at this wonderful film (something critics not too often do, in my experience). "Nymphomaniac" had been hyped in advance. Not only because of its successful marketing campaign, but because of the wild speculations about it supposedly being a scandalous sex flick. But sly von Trier, who was never prudish in the presentation of genitals in any way, follows in the footsteps of movies like "Shortbus" and many other which use sexually explicit depictions not for pornographic amusement, but for the story and its character. There is nothing slinky about it, rather something enlightening.
In fact, Skarsgård's and Gainsbourg's characters approach Joe's story of a sex addiction very analytically. When sex is being compared with fishing or the polyphony of Johann Sebastian Bach, it is not only amusing, but educational. Seligman tries to save Joe from her faith-based self-mortification as being sinful, which is an obvious recollection of the Age of Enlightenment—one with a great sense of humor, but also drama.
Taboos there are none, actually, and that is liberating. Von Trier seems to be inclined to break still prudent approaches to sexuality, using the most extreme of examples. And if audiences elsewhere shows similar reactions to the Berlinale press, then "Nymphomaniac" may probably be very effective. Those who see the cut version (27 minutes shorte) will understand almost everything, but actually I can really recommend the uncut long version. It is, of course, not only longer, but also more explicit and detailed, perhaps a bit more fun.