Movie review: “Nymphomaniac: Vol. II” ends von Trier’s sexual opus

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From the April 17, 2014 edition

Four hours is a lot of time to spend in Lars von Trier’s head.

The second half of the polarizing director’s sexual magnum opus “Nymphomaniac” arrives at the Gateway this week, completing his look into the life of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

“Nymphomaniac: Vol. II” focuses primarily on the later years as Joe’s life decisions are increasingly dictated by her sexual appetites.

If you missed the first part, yeah, you’re going to want to see that first. (It’s available now on-demand.) Things pick up right where they left off — namely with a younger Joe (Stacy Martin) still in a relationship with Jerome (Shia LaBeouf) when she suddenly finds she’s lost all sexual sensation. File “I can’t feel anything!” under “things no one wants to hear in bed.”

As Joe continues to recount stories from her past to kindly (?) stranger Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), her life becomes a tale that’s out of the frying pan and into the other frying pan. From a language-barrier threesome with two African immigrants to an appointment in S&M with an unassuming man with a schedule full of women (Jamie Bell), Joe’s search for a return to sexual satisfaction seems endless.

As the full breadth of von Trier’s film comes into focus, so do the successes and failures of “Nymphomaniac.” And as exhausting as this might be, I think I’d like to see the full film in one piece. As an anthology of vignettes, it can be uneven, but it’s also often hypnotic, another journey into that bleak world von Trier operates in.

While “Nymphomaniac” is graphic, it is rarely “sexy” — unless you are into the stuff Joe is exploring. It’s closer to a story of a self-loathing addict whose search for satisfaction takes her into darker places.

Gainsbourg seems at ease in the gauntlet that von Trier is notorious for putting his actresses through. She’s the line running through this “Depression trilogy” (“Melancholia,” “Antichrist”). You can say many things about this performance, but you can’t say it isn’t bold.

The same goes for the film. And I recommend you see it for yourself and plan to discuss it after.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures