Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

NYMPHOMANIAC (VOL. 1 AND 2)
R18+, 240 minutes. Opens Thursday.
★★★☆

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wants her therapy group to know she is not a sex addict like the rest of them, but a nymphomaniac. She means she is not ashamed of her obsession with sex. Nor is she seeking a cure. She is in the group only because her interest in other people's husbands has offended the petit bourgeois sensibilities of her boss and her co-workers.

Yes, we are in a Lars von Trier film, or rather two, since each of the two volumes run for about two hours, and this is the censored version. Von Trier's introductory disclaimer tells us that it was edited with his permission but without his involvement. A 5½-hour director's cut will be along later. I guess that there could be room for more sex, but not much.

The film's stars and producers have spoken candidly about the sex scenes, some of which were for real. I could never have envisaged using the words ''von Trier'' and ''class system'' in the same sentence, but we are told that an upstairs, downstairs policy prevailed. For the sequences below the waist which were not simulated, porn movie body-doubles were brought in, leaving the actors to, well, act. The magic of digital compositing did the rest. Mention has also been made of the use of prosthetic vaginas but that detail can probably be classified under the heading ''Too much information''. Even so, there is nothing inhibited about this cut and its parade of genitalia in close-up.

Strip the plot down or, rather, dress it up, and it's about a quest. Without warning, Joe loses her ability to reach orgasm. How can she get it back? This urgent question takes over her life. She abandons her baby son and Jerome (Shia LaBeouf), the only man who has ever inspired her with stirrings of love as well as lust, and devotes herself to the search.

It all unfolds in flashback. One night a kindly Stellan Skarsgard finds her, battered and barely conscious, in an alley. He takes her home and is treated to her life story, which sounds like a grim reward for a good deed, but it isn't, strangely enough.

Antichrist, von Trier's last collaboration with Gainsbourg, was depressing. This time the humour is designed to cheer - well, up to a point it is, thanks to Skarsgard. His job is to perform coitus interruptus by chipping in on Joe's tale with digressions on everything from theology to fly fishing to Fibonacci numbers, and the resulting repartee is unexpectedly droll. In the end, I amazed myself by liking the whole thing, although I am still scarred by the memory of Jamie Bell (alias Billy Elliott) taking charge of the whips and ropes in the sado-masochism scenes.