DIRECTED BY: Carlos Atanes
FEATURING: Xavier Tort, Anne Céline Auche, Manuel Solás, Marta Timón, Anna Diogene
PLOT: A mute male slave’s involvement with romance and rebel pornographers lands him in trouble in a sex-free future ruled by a totalitarian matriarchy.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: After producing a series of wildly experimental shorts in the 1990s (three of the most twisted of which were anthologized for the collection Codex Atanicus), Spanish filmmaker Carlos Atanes scaled back the surrealism for his feature debut, FAQ. While plenty of weirdness remains (it’s hard to argue that a movie that casually drops dialogue like “unwrap the cat, we’re taking it with us” and includes a plotline regarding “architectural castration” doesn’t push the boundaries of normality), it’s stretched more thinly than in the shorts: it’s like drinking skim milk after having become accustomed to whole.
COMMENTS: “Failure is inevitable,” concedes a rebel, “but it is our duty to keep trying.” He’s come to recruit Nono, a mute sound collector who’s never far away from his phallic microphone, to record some bird songs for the resistance’s archive of vanishing natural sounds; their ultimate dream is to someday record a breathing human female. The quote, however, could just as easily apply to the scrappy spirit of independent cinema FAQ embodies. As a philosophical dystopian science fiction, it’s not entirely successful: it frequently lags dramatically, especially in a languorous episode in the woods; with minimal sets and cheap-looking green screen effects, it struggles at times to hide its budgetary limitations; and it stumbles into a reality-bending non-resolution of an ending. But the sincerity and professionalism of the production shines through, and the movie shows enough crazy imagination and intelligence to make you forgive its flaws, both budgetary and dramatic. Some of the weirdest bits in this pretty weird feature involve the Internet porn of the future; adult actresses remain fully clothed at all times, and since human contact is verboten in the Brave New World, a woman touching a man’s bare chest is the height of salaciousness. For reasons unknown, this forbidden erotica is created in an avant-garde visual style, set on red glowing Dali-esque alien landscapes, and features nearly subliminal English text (the movie is in French) flashing across the screen (words like “orgasm,” “death” and “bastard” are legible). Other odd highlights include Nono’s mystical ability to peer into lobotomy holes to view a patient’s memories, and the fact that, when charged with crimes by the feminist state, defendants are given the option of electing their own punishments (one man’s pledge to shave his eyebrows, gouge his belly with a spoon, and hang himself within a year is found acceptable to his judges). Atanes indulges his lust for surreal tableaux in these segments, and also in an out-of-nowhere fourth-wall breaking finale, but even when it’s playing “serious,” FAQ sports an unaccountably odd tone. Superficially, the movie unspools as a serious science fiction drama, complete with pretentious poetic narration, but the absurdist touches throughout betray the director’s weird predilections. The idea of the female supremacist tyranny—the Sisterhood of Metacontrol—is bizarre in itself, and Atanes pushes the premise into farce by making the dynamiting of that great phallic symbol, the Eiffel Tower, a major plot event. The politically incorrect core of the film—its presumption that radical feminists would abolish sex if they ever came to power—is its boldest gambit, but it’s impossible to know exactly how to take this thesis. It’s hard to know how seriously to take any film where a character makes a serious speech about a higher reality that is watching us, and then, without explanation, put on a red clown nose and gaze reverently skyward. FAQ’s apparent antifeminist agenda could be seen as a legitimate attack on the Andrea Dworkin strain of radical feminism, or a lampoon of male paranoia about “feminazis,” or it could be nothing more than a sly reversal of expectations (any society in which absolute power is vested in one of the two sexes would become a dystopia for the other). Whatever the film’s actual attitude towards feminism, it is legitimately thought provoking and discomfiting, which is a major point in the movie’s favor. Not fully surrealist and not entirely sci-fi, FAQ is not for everyone, but there can be no doubt that it represents a unique voice and viewpoint in a sea of blahfilm. Its commercial failure may be inevitable, but independent filmmakers like Atanes have a duty to keep on trying.
Star Xavier Tort also composed the effective music, using a single, wordless female voice to otherworldly effect. FAQ was released with little fanfare or promotion on DVD in 2007. It seems that when the rights reverted to the original owners, they chose to re-release it in this “special edition” in December 2010. The re-release is unfortunately on DVD-R, and the picture quality is acceptable but leaves much to be desired for videophiles. The special features include seven minutes of interviews with the cast and crew and two deleted scenes, one an expanded clip of futuristic avant-garde erotica with sadomasochistic overtones. The Special Edition of FAQ is not available from disc rental companies like Netflix but is available on Amazon instant video for rental or download. As pointed out by a helpful reader below, the original 2007 Region 1 release without the special features is available through Netflix.
DISCLOSURE: Screener copy provided for review by Carlos Atanes.
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