Lars von Trier returns to UK cinemas this week with Nymphomaniac (2013), shortened and split into two volumes from a five-hour original cut. This dissection is unlikely to be the only divisive aspect of the self-styled auteur's latest, a full-on descent into the eponymous addiction to fornication that's as perversely humorous as it is confrontational. Spanning the life and times of the love-averse Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg in her later years, Stacy Martin in her youth), Nymphomaniac showcases the best - and the worst - of the Dane's talents.
So what does it all add up to? Like Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998) before it, one would be churlish to presume that von Trier's anarchic concoction of hardcore sex and pseudo-religious posturing will be everyone's cup of tea. For the most part, Skarsgård's Seligman is the perfect audience cypher, bemused by Joe's fanciful tales of S&M and threesomes one minute before descending into his own digressions on everything from fly fishing to mathematics the next. The very 'joy of Lars' is that he allows himself to be laid bare on film, free from inhibition and self-censorship. One particularly telling scene sees a teenage Joe and her female school chums forming a movement with its own distinct 'anti-love' manifesto. For those who can cast their minds back to Dogme 95, the real-life parallels are there for the taking.
The Dane, as is ever the case, also proves himself adept at over-egging his own pudding. Several dalliances into the choppy waters of race and paedophilia are clunky rather than profound, whilst the second chapter as a whole feels a little too close to several past endeavours. But what else were we to expect from a director exiled from the world's most renowned international festival for perceived anti-Semitism? A cluster of none-too-subtle swipes are made at his growing army of naysayers, but even these are conducted with the joie de vivre of an individual who has passed through Melancholia, only to emerge his old badly behaved self. Arthouse cinema's persona non grata is back - and this time he's remembered to pack his sense of humour.
Daniel Green | @DanGreen1986