In spite of the title and the posters that depicted characters’ faces as they climaxed and that trailer with its pristine black-and-white shot of a bead of liquid running down Stacy Martin’s inner thigh, Lars von Trier’s two-part Nymphomaniac isn’t a sexy movie. This isn’t a failure on the film’s part; sex is more often played for comedy, especially in part one. (The montage of flaccid, dopey penises is a good illustration of this.) Part two shifts gears and things get ugly.
If you’ve followed von Trier’s career, it isn’t a surprise that the only genuinely sexy encounter comes from a place of pain. Joe, at this point played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, has found a new partner who genuinely excites her, unlike her jackass husband (played by Shia LaBeouf). Jamie Bell, the sexiest thing in the film, plays K, a disciplinarian with a real fondness for flagellation and tight knots. A number of women wait for his services; Joe shares a fluorescent-lit waiting room with them. The sexual energy is derived from Joe appearing to be in a vulnerable position for the first time in the movie. But when she gets off without Bell’s character’s permission, you see that she still has the upper hand. It’s pretty hot, even if you’re not into red marks on pale skin. —Ross Scarano