Nymph()maniac: Vol. I
Nymph()maniac: Vol. II
starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf
written and directed by Lars von Trier
by Angelo Muredda Partway through the second volume of Lars von Trier's surprisingly nimble Nymph()maniac, wounded storyteller Joe (three-time Trier MVP Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells her rapt listener Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) about the time she went to a support group for her sex addiction. When the group's straight-edge policy proved more than she could bear, Joe bowed out, but not before quipping that her fellow sufferers are nothing but "society's morality police, whose duty is to erase my obscenity from the surface of the earth so that the bourgeoisie won't feel sick." At last, one thinks, von Trier has found his ideal authorial surrogate in Gainsbourg, whose weird Brechtian delivery is halfway between earnest declaration and stiff high-school rendition of The Crucible. Von Trier has been a professional troll, masking his underlying seriousness with outré gestures, since long before he started sporting T-shirts emblazoned with "PERSONA NON GRATA," in tribute to Cannes' goofy decision to brand him uncouth for joking that his Wagner fixation owed to a latent penchant for Nazism. (All joshing aside, it obviously stung him.) But he's never shown himself to be as sophisticated at joking through tears (or crying through nasty punchlines) as he is in Nymph()maniac. Clocking in at over four hours in two rich parts, at least in the edited version debuting this weekend at Toronto's Lightbox, it's a landmark of seriocomic storytelling that is simultaneously a satire of biographical tall-tales, a depressive's bildungsroman, and an alternately tender and lacerating self-portrait, defending all the Joes and Larses of the world for their obscenity without sparing them the lash.