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Nymphomaniac, Vol. II 

Lars von Trier's tale of one woman's sexual history continues

Touching: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell

Touching: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Jamie Bell

When last we saw the young woman Joe (Stacy Martin), in Vol. I of Lars von Trier's cinematic double orgasm Nymphomaniac, she'd just had sex with the guy (Shia LaBeouf) to whom she'd lost her virginity years before. The older Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) vividly recalls the encounter to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), and at the end of her story, she declares, in agony: "I can't feel anything."

Vol. II continues her story, with Gainsbourg now squarely in the saddle (so to speak), and at least one of von Trier's purposes becomes clearer. Joe had her first orgasm spontaneously at age 12, but none after that; Seligman ("blessed man") is a 60-year-old virgin intellectual whose life experience comes from books. They were, it seems, born this way, and now they have to help each other back from the extremes to find balance in a world where, "for a human being, killing is the most natural thing." Good luck with that.

Von Trier's austere dialogue touches upon themes of culture, history, language, storytelling, desire, psychology and religion. The sex in Vol. II is little more copious than in Vol. I, if at times more outré. But it's all played so coolly that it affects your head — if it affects anything at all — much more than your heart or body.

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