LIST CANDIDATE: SWEET MOVIE (1974)

Sweet Movie has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. This initial review is kept here for archival purposes. Please leave comments on Sweet Movie‘s official Certified Weird entry page.

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Dusan Makavejev

FEATURING: Carole Laure, Anna Prucnal, Pierre Clémenti,

PLOT: Two alternating stories: in one a virgin beauty queen escapes from her millionaire

Still from Sweet Movie (1974)

husband and his solid gold penis, while in the other a Socialist sea captain sails down an Amsterdam canal with a hold full of sugar and candy.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Any movie where a virgin beauty queen is frightened on her wedding night by her billionaire husband’s solid gold penis is certainly weird enough to qualify for the List. My hesitation in anointing it as one of the 366 most notable weird movies of all time my belief that this is a really bad movie—not just a grotesque and disgusting film, but an empty, morally bankrupt, and frequently dull one, as well. (Despite it’s Criterionization, Sweet Movie‘s uninspiring 6.3 rating on IMDB coupled with a mediocre 47% positive on Rotten Tomatoes supports my suspicion that it’s not a film many people can admire). Sweet Movie, which glories in loving depictions of urine, feces, puke and blood, is like an arthouse version of Pink Flamingos, only with a puffed-up self-importance in place of that movie’s radical humor. The film has its defenders, who are encouraged to speak up in the comments section—because it will take some convincing for us to honor this greatly reviled provocation with a spot on the List.

COMMENTS: Sweet Movie mixes shock aesthetics with an unfocused political polemic; like blood and sugar, the two strategies prove immiscible, and so it’s like getting two bad movies for the price of one. It starts out with a promising satirical idea. A chastity belt manufacturer is holding a beauty contest, the prize being marriage to the richest man in the world. The winning contestant, beauteous Carole Laure, even has a glowing hymen! In an unrelated plotline, a ship is cruising down a canal in Amsterdam with a bust of Karl Marx jutting from the prow; a man dressed as a Potemkin-era Russian sailor tries to get the attention of captain Anna Prucnal from the shore. The movie quickly goes off the tracks, however, when “Miss Monde” escapes from her gold-plated hubby and is stuffed into a suitcase to tour the world, while the captain and the sailor sing old Socialist sea shanties and trade obscure dialogue relating to Communism and revolution. If the first third of the movie looked like it might develop into an intriguing and outrageous satire, and the second third of the movie gets dull as a lecture on 1970s Yugoslavian politics, the final act goes totally off the rails. After losing her virginity to a lip-synching mariachi at the Eiffel Tower, the beauty queen finds herself at a commune of libertines. In an orgy that lasts for nearly twenty disgusting minutes, they eat until they puke, stick a sausage in a man’s pants and slice it up with a meat cleaver, defecate on a stage, rub feces on a man’s chest as he pretends to be an infant, and generally act like a troupe of hippie performance artists secretly dosed with PCP-laced laxatives. Meanwhile, back on the good ship lollipop, Captain Anna, who has lured four prepubescent boys onto the vessel by dangling candy in front of them, does a full striptease for the lads, fondling them, shoving her naked crotch in their faces, and unzipping their pants, before murdering the jailbait quartet. Makavejev inserts vintage documentary footage of Nazis exhuming mass graves in Katyn, Poland into the proceedings, as if to say “shame on you and your bourgeois morals! You’re offended by natural bodily functions, but not by the reality of mass murder?” Of course, it’s possible to be offended by both—and, furthermore. to object to the idea that the director would exploit real life atrocities by inserting them into his silly, self-indulgent shock film. The nauseating bacchanalia at the commune is severe, but it involves only consenting adults. If a director wants to push people’s moral buttons with movie trickery or by employing actors engaging in extreme behavior, that’s one thing; but involving animals, the mentally infirm or (in this case) children in unsimulated scenarios with the sole intent of disturbing the audience is unethical, the mark of a filmmaker who’s passed beyond provocation and into exploitation. Without the striptease scene, Sweet Movie would just be a poorly executed art shocker; with it, it’s an objectionable artifact worthy of a “beware” rating. The film’s few good points—John Vernon’s gilded member, Carole Laure zipped into a red suitcase, the dueling political allegories–are overwhelmed by Makavejev’s childish need to offend. Laure’s strand of the story clearly represents capitalism, and Prucnal’s socialism; both ideologies are shown to be equally monstrous. Makavejev presents no third alternative to the two corrupt opposed political orders, unless we’re supposed to admire the permissiveness and anarchy of the scat-smearing commune. Sorry, I ain’t buying it, and neither is anyone else. The most likely effect of the movie on an audience is to reaffirm their bourgeois proprieties: yeah, those taboos against coprophagia, the sexualization of children, and the random insertion of pointless, pretentious political musings into movies are pretty valid after all, aren’t they?

Carole Laure was so disgusted by the activities at the commune that she walked off the movie, but not before Makavejev got footage of her fondling a flaccid penis and rolling around naked in a vat of chocolate. The entire subplot involving Prucnal’s riverboat captain was added to fill out the running time. Her participation in the “pornographic” film caused the Polish authorities to revoke her passport; she was unable to return to her homeland for seven years.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…one of the most bizarre examples of what a moderately successful nut job can do with a camera and a budget — a poorly received cautionary tale to filmmakers who get too full of themselves.”–Christopher Null, AMC Movie Guide (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dan, who called it ” by far one of the strangest movies i have ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

2 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: SWEET MOVIE (1974)”

  1. “Murdered by a jailbait quartet”? Usually they make you get arrested, now I’m worried about they starting to get you dead!

  2. I really liked Sweet Movie, but i can see why it can be seen as a bad movie… in any way, it’s a must-see for weird films lovers IMHO, so many random scenes and crazy characters. Also hidden in Sweet Movie there could be some metaphors and criticism about mass-media, capitalism, communism, young people of the ’70 and love for chocolate :)

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