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Since most of her tale is drawn from her youth, told in flashbacks, von Trier has cast another woman as the young Joe: screen debutante (and Premier model) Stacey Martin.Who has something of the raw, angular intensity of Gainsbourg – who always seems, to me at least, to have a few too many bones in her face – but doesn’t hold the screen in a way that makes Joe a particularly compelling protagonist; watching, you occasionally find yourself wondering what a stronger actress, someone with more technique to draw upon, might have done with the role. Who takes Joe’s virginity and is forgotten, only to reappear in her life a few years later as her boss.Any doubts as to the frankness of what’s to follow are dispelled with her very first line: "I discovered my cunt at age two..." But potty-language aside, as structures go this is fairly standard stuff.Not only is Joe basically Scheherazade, playing to her audience of one, but given the professed insatiability of her appetites – sometimes up to ten lovers a day – there might well be 1001 men to describe. Her manner, like her tone, remains consistently glum; her obsession with sex, she claims, has deformed her personality and destroyed her life.Deferral of gratification is, of course, an accepted Tantric strategy.But this felt like something else, bitterly ironic given the subject-matter: an anti-climax.Rather, he’s a showman – a master stylist and a born provocateur.(Speaking of which: are we meant to detect, in his decision to make Seligman Jewish, a tacit for the supposedly anti-Semetic remarks that saw him banned from Cannes? Considering the notoriety this project attracted before even a single scene was shot, and the steady stream of news stories it generated before it premiered (the purported use of CGI for some of the explicit shots; that O-face poster), there’s actually a lot less of it than you might expect.
She’s a thinly-conceived character, at least in her present-day guise – all experience and no personality – and Gainsbourg’s performance remains accordingly remote and blank; narrating, her voice never strays above a posh murmur.
If von Trier overreaches, it’s at least a spectacular, Hindenburg-crashing-down-in-flames-sized failure.
In that respect, at least, he’s a courageous filmmaker – so much so, in fact, that the question of whether that courage is a genuine sense of artistic risk-taking, or simply an outcome of extraordinary self-belief, finally becomes irrelevant.
(Connie Nielsen, as her mother, is glimpsed so fleetingly as to barely register.) But the real standout performance in belongs to Uma Thurman, whose one scene here – as a wronged wife, confronting her husband and his lover (Joe, naturally) – is hysterically, ferociously funny, packed with lines that it would be a shame to spoil.
(Okay, maybe just one, delivered with pitch-perfect mock-ingenuousness: ‘Might the children .