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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Again, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier is known for provoking moviegoers. Many were revolted by his film "Antichrist," which has been called misogynist and the product of a sick mind. His award-winner "Melancholia" presented depression as the only reasonable reaction to the world. And his latest provocation, well, it's right there in the title, "Nymphomaniac: Vol. I," the first half of a four-hour opus on sex.

And if that's not enough of a warning, if kids are within earshot, you might want to rejoin us in about three minutes.

Critic Bob Mondello says the film is racy enough in visuals and subject matter that he's glad he's reviewing it on the radio.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: When the middle-aged bachelor, played by Stellan Skarsgard, finds Charlotte Gainsbourg's Joe lying battered and bloody in the rain and offers to call her an ambulance, she tells him what she really wants is a cup of tea. So he takes her to his home, gets her dry and warm and serves her tea and questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. I")

STELLAN SKARSGARD: (As Seligman) Were you robbed?

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG: (As Joe) It's my own fault. I'm just a bad human being.

SKARSGARD: (As Seligman) I've never met a bad human being.

GAINSBOURG: (As Joe) Well, you have now.

SKARSGARD: (As Seligman) Do you want to talk about it?

MONDELLO: Joe doesn't, really, and changes the subject.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVE, "NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. I")

GAINSBOURG: (As Joe) Why is that ridiculous fish hook hanging there?

SKARSGARD: (As Seligman) That's a fly. Fly fishing is about tying feathers and...

MONDELLO: Her host turns out to be full of random factoids on everything from fingernail trimming to music theory. He's also a good listener, so Joe starts to tell him the story of her life, her sexual life in flashbacks where she's played by Stacy Martin, and her first conquest at 15 is motorbike mechanic Shia LaBeouf.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NYMPHOMANIC")

STACY MARTIN: (As Joe) If I ask you to take my virginity, would that be a problem?

SHIA LABEOUF: (As Jerome) No, I don't see a problem.

MONDELLO: Soon, she's telling Skarsgard about a school girl sex club she formed with a friend and about how they went trolling for partners down train corridors.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. I")

SKARSGARD: (As Seligman) Can I interrupt here? What you were doing when you walked down that corridor, you were reading the river. Most of the large fish stay sheltered from the currents.

MONDELLO: If this reaction strikes you as comic, that turns out to be very much the mood that writer/director Lars von Trier is after. To illustrate Joe's tales of seven to 10 sexual encounters a day, he stages everything from a penis parade to a sequence where his heroine is shagging so many men that she can't keep them all straight and has to roll dice to figure out how to reply when they phone.

The fact that she's not getting emotionally involved, of course, doesn't mean they don't, which can get complicated, as when one guy's wife, Uma Thurman, brings her kids over with an ever-so-polite request.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. I")

UMA THURMAN: (As Mrs. H.) Would it be all right if I show the children the whoring bed? Let's go see Daddy's favorite place. Oh, so this where it all happened.

MONDELLO: What this first half of "Nymphomaniac" ends up being about is emotional intercourse, something the heroine treats lightly until it becomes clear that despite all of the physical intimacy, she is irretrievably lonely. I'm hesitant to make too many predictions about where the story's going. Von Trier's movies tend to take a sharp turn at the two-thirds mark and we're not there yet. But based on the foreplay, I'd say tuning in for "Nymphomaniac: Vol. II," which arrives next month, is a no-brainer. I'm Bob Mondello.

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