Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is found lying blooded and battered in an alley by bookworm Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). He takes her to his grotty, stained apartment to clean her up, and offers a friendly ear for her to offload her woes as she sees herself as a terrible person who deserves everything she got. So, over the course of the two films she recounts her life story and her obsession with carnal desire. From her earliest feelings 'down there', the young Joe (played by newcomer - so to speak - Stacy Martin) decides on the person to take her virginity - an older boy, Jerôme (Shia LeBeouf), whose influence and entanglement in her life is profound.
The only love she has felt at this point is from her father (Christian Slater), a nature loving doctor who teaches her the beauty of trees and whose death forms the most harrowing moment of the film. But it's the re-emergence of Jerôme at key moments in her life that shapes her 'real life' destiny in many ways.
In among the tales of lust there are several moments of great situational humour. Uma Thurman's showstopping scene as the wife of a conquest who has taken Joe's attention a little too seriously is superb. A planned threesome with a pair of non-English speaking Africans fails to happen when the brothers end up arguing (with the viewer just left to watch a giant pair of erect penises; almost the definition of a cock fight). Udo Kier and Willem Dafoe are on screen far too little, but both have a glorious impact. As do the occasional visual flourishes von Trier adopts to illustrate certain moments.
The standout performance must be Stacy Martin, who as the young Joe steals the first film and provides a brilliantly naturalistic performance. We will no doubt see more of her in the future (ahem...)
Quite why the film is being released in a split Kill Bill style format, I really don't know. This isn't a multiplex film (which, let's be honest are actually quite used to the idea of a long film) and those seeking to see it are really being duped into buying two tickets. Of course, a four hour film is a hard sell, but it's not aimed at a mainstream audience.
For those interested here's the uncut, not suitable for kids trailer :
Nymphomaniac Official Trailer from Zentropa on Vimeo.
8 out of 10 (rated as the two films together)