In whom will Shia insert LaBeouf?

In the first minutes of Nymphomaniac: Volume I, the latest film from Danish director Lars von Trier, the camera winds its way through a rain-soaked night to find our main character: a brutally beaten woman lying wounded in an alley. This woman should not be confused with any of Von Trier's previous brutalized females, including Breaking the Waves' Bess (who is raped and beaten to death), Antichrist's "She" (who cuts off her clitoris with scissors), Dogville's Grace (who is raped and enslaved by an entire town), or Dancer in the Dark's Selma (who is tortured by circumstance then graphically executed by the state). Are you sensing a theme? Or are you too busy trying not to puke?

If it's any consolation, Von Trier's latest piñata-with-a-vagina insists she was asking for it. After being found beaten in the alley, Nymphomaniac's Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by the bookish bachelor Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), who offers her tea and listens to her tales of a life beset by sex addiction. These tales come to life before our eyes, as the young Joe (portrayed by Stacy Martin) learns of sexual pleasure and her own sexual power. The sex is both graphic and technologically accomplished, with the intermingling genitals of nameless porn actors superimposed on the bodies of the film's stars (including Shia LaBeouf, who takes the preteen Joe's vaginal and anal virginity with a half dozen dull thrusts).

Back in the present, Seligman draws parallels between Joe's frantic fuckery and his own studies of fly fishing, through dialogue so stilted and inane, you'll laugh out loud. And yet! In this swamp of garish pretension, Nymphomaniac: Volume I hits upon stretches of great cinema—most notably, a smashing scene starring Uma Thurman as an increasingly unhinged victim of Joe's compulsion, a scene that you'll want to go on forever. Instead, it's back to creepy sex findings, with Von Trier's preoccupation with misogynistic horror making the whole endeavor suspect (if not repellent). Still, it's a daring film that many will want to see for themselves, and that is ultimately only half the story: Nymphomaniac: Volume II arrives in early April. recommended