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"Nymphomaniac: Volume II": The Punchline to Lars von Trier's 4-Hour Sex Joke 

Wednesday, Apr 2 2014
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In Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Volume II, the bruised woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues telling her sex-life story to the overthinking intellectual Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) with no recap or attempt to bring newbies up to speed, as if this was the second half of a four-hour movie that wasn't originally intended to be split up for domestic distribution. (The distributor says that a 5.5-hour Director's Cut exists, and will eventually be released.) Volume II is less impressionistic and more narrative-driven than Volume I, as is reasonable for the second half of a story, and while some of the segments go into more emotionally intense places, there's still plenty of humor. The film also continues to poke fun at its own pretensions, and explores the more mundane, downright unsexy elements of sex in the modern world, including the trickiness of scheduling appointments for clinical BDSM sessions around unreliable babysitters. (Life's little annoyances!) Taken as a whole, Nymphomaniac is a defense of female sexuality by a man who seems to know that it's not up to men to defend female sexuality — and, as the startling yet wholly inevitable conclusion suggests, that doing so doesn't give a man any special privileges. From a certain point of view, Lars von Trier is what a feminist looks like.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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