Posts Tagged “2.9”


June 6, 2009
Netflix DVD
77 Minutes
Drama / Adult
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; Fat Girl; Brief Crossing; Sex Is Comedy; The Last Mistress]
Woman . . . Amira Casar [The Last Mistress]
Man . . . Rocco Siffredi [Romance; And 384 Adult Titles]

By far the lowest rated of Catherine Breillat’s canon. She has become something of a hero to me, saying things that others don’t dare. Showing us films that others won’t (can’t) make. Admitting that adolescent girls are every bit as messed up and horny as adolescent boys. Some of her bravery comes from the the fact that she is one of just a handful of female directors with the power and vision to write and direct their own films. Because she is coming from a different perspective than male-dominated Hollywood (or Paris or London or Mexico), she makes films that seem so different from the mainstream as to be created simply for men to argue about.

This is my 9th experience with Ms. Breillat and it was perhaps the hardest to watch. If this was her sole goal, then, mission accomplished. But when you watch enough of her films, a central pattern begins to emerge. She is setting out to document the psycho-sexual inner life of women. Or perhaps, just one woman–herself.

She has shown us young teenage girls awakening to lust while still being horrified by their changing bodies (A REAL YOUNG GIRL & 36 FILLETTE). She showed us a relationship between an older woman and younger man and how his jealousy and shame can be dangerous to her (PERFECT LOVE). She told the story in ROMANCE about a man so diabolical that he stopped craving sex from his attractive wife and gave her permission to meet her needs elsewhere–his betrayal so severe, that she never forgives him. In FAT GIRL, two sisters discuss the goal of losing their virginity while on summer holiday–the pretty one requiring her suitor to promise her the stars and moon while the chubby one watches and hears everything. BRIEF CROSSING gave the woman the upper hand in a seduction over a brave-talking but ultimately scared teenage boy. SEX IS COMEDY was a rare mis-step which recounted the filming of FAT GIRL. THE LAST MISTRESS used a costume drama to remind us that sexual power, specifically female sexual power is surely the mightiest weapon of all.

ANATOMY OF HELL, however, has just two roles. One is a suicidal woman, who slits her wrists within the first five minutes because “I’m a woman”, and a gay man, who comes to her aid, gets fellated as a thank you, and is then hired to watch her and come to grips with everything revolting about women to gay (and indeed, straight) men. “Watch” is probably not a strong enough word for what she’s going to ask him to do. She’s asked him to inspect, to probe, to use her in any way he wants in order to come to some great understanding between men and women.

He will be paid to watch her for four consecutive nights. He seems unhappy to be spending his evenings in a sparsely decorated beach house, watching a clearly-damaged woman exorcise her demons.

The characters are named “woman” and “man” and they are symbols of every male and female, I suppose. Women are leery enough about their bodies and what they do and what they produce and how the bleed and how they look without having a man, let alone a gay one not interested in sex, violate them with eyes, digits, and other items. The violations are ultimately psychological, not physical, and who ends up with the power in such a rare relationship is a question I didn’t find the answer to.

The two actors are attractive. Amira Casar is pale and sexy and has a mischievous smile–though she’s usually in such a dour mood that smiling is out of the question. We are told in a unique pre-credit that the really close close-ups of a woman’s anatomy were “performed” by a body-double. Miss Casar is free to find acting work again. The man is played by Rocco Siffredi, who is by far the world’s most well-known straight porn star. He is saddled with heavy, serious, existential dialogue that perhaps no actor on earth could convincingly utter. In the mouth of Rocco, who I confess to knowing in a completely different way, it sounds better than it has any right to.

He is a better actor than he should be and in this film, more so than in ROMANCE where his main acting challenge was tumescence, he gets a chance to actually act. Half of the film is dependent on him. Though his quick arousal on several occasions doesn’t help him prove the avowed homosexuality his character claims. And if you’ve seen any of Rocco’s other “work” you’ll know that some of the acts he’s expected to do in this film, though shocking to mainstream audiences, are not even close to what he willingly does in adult fare with titles that begin with “Rocco’s Adventure In…” So don’t cry for Rocco. On the other hand, you might just cry for the dialogue which sounds artificial and stilted and grad-student deep. I didn’t buy for a minute that either of these characters would speak this way.

On the squeamish meter, this one is off the charts. Saliva, mucus, tears, sperm, vaginal fluids, a squished stomped on baby bird, a nude six-year-old, a garden tool, an exaggeratedly messy menstrual act of intercourse, an eggplant-shaped stone, a water glass, and a used tampon all make appearances. If you gagged while reading that, you might just take this film off your queue. I didn’t remember seeing earwax, tree sap, vomit, urine, or honey, which have all shown up in previous Breillat films.

On the other hand, several of the scenes (which are divided by titles reading “First Night”, “Second Night”, etc.) revolve around The Woman’s menstrual cycle, which is scary and off-putting and inconvenient to a lot of women, and positively horrifying to many men. “Bleeding without the benefit of a wound” is how the female character describes it. Men, here is your chance to “experience” the miracle that is the monthly cycle of human renewal. I almost watched the whole thing without the use of my patented hand in front of face with fingers splayed technique. Almost.

Now is The Man violating The Woman? He is clearly doing things that one doesn’t do to and with a stranger. Is she mentally violating him? She’s asking him to do things that she wouldn’t ask her lover to do. Is there any exploitation going on between the two of them? Are we as viewers complicit in the experience as we are voyeurs watching from the comfort of our couches? And by the way, this might be the first non-porn that I’d not have the balls to watch in a public theater. I again thank the inventors of the DVD.

Though there is insertion and erection and vasocongestion, there isn’t an arousing scene in the film. And, though the narrator’s voice is Breillat’s own, the character she is speaking for is not Woman, but Man. There is a late scene in a bar where Man recounts his exploits that seemed to me to be completely honest and well-played. Think about a sexual exploit described to others in a social situation. Neither men nor women ever recap the important parts of the coupling. They can’t. You can’t describe how you felt, you can only describe what you did. Watch The Man’s attitude change as he realizes that he’s describing a completely different experience to his bar buddy than the one we just watched.

The film runs a normally-brief 75 minutes, but it’s a squirm-inducing 75 minutes. The DVD includes an interview with Ms. Breillat wherein she completely deconstructs what we’ve just seen. This interview, which I loved, ran 65 minutes on its own. Which says something about the impenetrableness of ANATOMY OF HELL. If an interview about a film and its meaning and symbolism last as long as the very film being broken down, what does that say about its accessibility? This interview will prove to be an endurance test if you think that Breillat’s philosophy doesn’t amount to anything. But if you’re a fan of her work and attitude (as I am), you’ll like it.

There are plenty of films where a self-described student of film is supposed to feel some sense of accomplishment merely for having sat through its complete running time. I’ve never seen SALO, but I’ve heard things. I’ve also never watched TWO GIRLS AND A CUP or whatever that web video is that makes people spontaneously combust while watching. IRREVERSIBLE was an ordeal, but it had a purpose. I don’t think that Breillat is hitting us over the head with so many hard-to-watch images simply to see if we’ll make it to the credits. I have way more respect for her than that. I really believe that she is a singular talent who tells stories that others are afraid to, from a perspective that others don’t have. There are few filmmakers I’d like to meet, but Ms. Breillat is one of them.

She believes in the transcendence of sex. She believes that lust and deviance are marks of humanity. And she believes that only when you give up power and puritanical ideas of shame, can you be free.

Or at least I think she believes that stuff. She says all of this in French, after all.

* Ebert
D Gleiberman
2.9 Metacritic
4.3 IMDB

Anatomy of Hell @ Amazon


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Written by Michael W. Cummins