Tag Archives: Rape

CAPSULE: BLOODY ORANGES (2021)

Oranges Sanguines

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Bloody Oranges is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Christophe Meurisse

FEATURING: Alexandre Steiger, Christophe Paou, Lillith Grasmug, Olivier Saladin, Fred Blin

PLOT: An elderly French couple enters a dance contest hoping to ease their debts, while a scandal-ridden politician schemes to rehabilitate his image, and a 16-year old girl hopes to lose her virginity.

Still from Bloody Oranges (2021)

COMMENTS: If you like movies about French pension reform with a side of torture porn, you’ll dig Bloody Oranges. There are lots of discussions of the French pension system (which, we learn, constitutes 13.5% of the annual budget) and the younger generation’s resentment towards funding it. Pension complaints are pillow talk, getting rid of pension fraud among the elderly is the centerpiece of a fiscal cabinet meeting, and pension reform is the subjet de tous les jours on ambient TV news broadcasts. Olivier and Laurence are deep in debt and their combined monthly checks can’t cover their expenses, so they’re hoping to win a rock n’ roll dance contest that would net them an SUV which they could resell and possibly cut their debts in half.

But perhaps the modern French have deeper problems than the pension system. In almost the dead middle of the film we get an epigram from Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci that ends with the line: “Now is the time of monsters.” And this is when the movie, which had been an ensemble comedy dry as a glass of Merlot, suddenly takes a turn for the bloody. The change in tone is jarring and won’t work for many, but you do have to say one thing: le patriarcat gets (by which I mean loses) theirs at the end.

Writer/director Jean-Christophe Meurisse has fashioned a well-written, if not necessarily pleasant or tonally coherent, third feature. Although the situations get a bit bizarre, the characters are generally believable. Much of the dialogue is delivered through complicated discussions full of counterpoint: the dance jury argues spiritedly about the role of diversity in the selection process, a family birthday party is full of subtle recriminations and resentments. Individual scenes are well-crafted: a lover takes little post-coital digs at her partner’s slight build, microagressive but delivered with such sweetness that taking offense would appear as a gauche overreaction; in another amusing incident, a gynecologist gives advice to a virgin (I like to believe all French gynecologists flippantly explain hand job techniques to their inexperienced teenage patients).

But the movie’s central shock scene, while perhaps cathartic, reveals none of the careful control or wit Meurisse displays throughout the rest of the movie. It makes narrative sense, sure, but its brutal over-explicitness makes it a mood-killer. Instead of sweet orange flesh, with are left with bitter pith.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a film with bizarre events strung up together with not real interest and barely any joy at all is what is presented here and unless one wants to watch something that is just blandly negative, this is not a film many will like watching.”–Emillee Black, Cinema Crazed (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE GLAMOROUS LIFE OF SACHIKO HANAI (2003)

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Hatsujô kateikyôshi: Sensei no aijiru

DIRECTED BY: Mitsuru Meike

FEATURING: Emi Kuroda

PLOT: A call girl survives a shot in the head and acquires the cloned finger of George Bush.

Still from the glamorous life of sachiko hanai (2003)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Add George W. Bush saying “G-spot” in a Japanese accent to the list of things you never expected to see (or hear) in a movie. The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai might not be the most polished or profound flick out there, but left-field surprises like that are the reason we watch weird movies.

COMMENTS: Sex films sometimes give low budget directors the chance to innovate and experiment. So long as you deliver the anticipated dose of T&A every ten minutes, the thinking goes, you can fill up the interstices with whatever nonsense or profundity you like. Some frustrated auteurs have taken this opportunity to mix ambitious absurdism with sex: started in hardcore, decided to make an entire oddball career in , and mixed pornography with honest-to-God surrealism. The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai stands firmly in this tradition, but with a typically Japanese panache.

The opening scene is a 6-minute soft sex scene with call girl Sachiko seducing a client while posing as his tutor. The clip is made for straight wanking, betraying no hint of the avant-garde pretensions to come. Afterwards, during a confrontation at a cafe between two secret agents, Sachiko is shot but inexplicably survives a bullet to the head, while her lipstick is accidentally switched with a container holding the finger of a clone of President George W. Bush. The accident leaves her with super-intelligence and psychic powers, and she soon seduces a famous professor who like to discuss Noam Chomsky while boning. He hires her as a tutor to his underachieving adult son who’s only interested in military history. Meanwhile, a North Korean spy is searching for Sakicho. Eventually, in the film’s strangest scene, the finger reveals its true nature, as a man in a paper George Bush mask delivers a deranged villain speech from a TV monitor (occasionally interrupted by footage of Iraqis pulling down Saddam Hussein’s statue) while Sachiko, penetrated by the detached digit, writhes on the ground in involuntary ecstasy. That plot is bizarre enough, but there are plenty of surreal embellishments along the way: a crude cartoon, psychedelic green screen compositions, peeks into the activity inside the hole in Sakicho’s head, and one brief scene acted out by G.I. Joe action figures.

Unfortunately, even if you’re up for the softcore interlude every ten minutes, all of this intriguing absurdity comes with a big downside: rape. Most reviews imply that there is one rape scene—and the one they are focusing on is icky and especially gratuitous—but there are technically more that that. There’s one where Sachicko is nearly comatose and unable to give consent, one that begins as an assault when a girl tries to break up with her paramour (but appears consensual thereafter), and of course the infamous “finger” scene (which, to be fair, is so absurdly conceived that it’s hardly disturbing). Even if you don’t find these bits nauseating, they’re completely at odds with the lighthearted, comic tone of the rest of the film. Lead Emi Kuroda is so and bodacious and spunky that, properly directed, Sachiko could have been a sex-positive goddess. The movie misses a great opportunity to be a vehicle promoting positive erotic energy as an antidote to the militaristic Thanatos drive, which would have been an absolutely winning formula. As it is, no one is going to fault you if you can’t get over the movie’s implicit and explicit misogyny; it’s a glaring flaw, and quite possibly a fatal one. On the other hand, even though the attempted political satire isn’t particularly trenchant, consisting as it does of a not-so-bold anti-nuclear annihilation stance, there’s something wholesome about plopping a prominent world leader into the middle of a smutty picture.

As a pink film, Sakicho Hanai originally ran just over an hour and was titled Horny Home Tutor: Teacher’s Love Juice (!) Director Mitsuru Meike expanded it by about 25 minutes and sold it to film festivals as a cult movie. The Japanese trailer shows Meike pitching the film to a politician, hoping to get a quote for the poster. He tells the functionary who answers the phone that he’s only been able to make soft porn movies so far and that Sachiko Hanai “may be the last chance for me.” The DVD includes that trailer, the US release trailer, the Horny Home Teacher cut of the film, and a short film sequel (“The Adventure of Sakicho Hanai”) that is, if anything, more offensive than the feature, with no nudity but featuring puppet rape and Sakicho wrestling a woman in blackface.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…seems to exist in an uneasy limbo between avant-garde brilliance and completely inane abrasiveness… at times suggests Eraserhead reborn as a softcore Japanese porno flick…”–Rob Humanik, Slant

(This movie was nominated for review by “Frank.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996)

 La sindrome di Stendhal

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Marco Leonardi, Paolo Bonacelli, Thomas Kretschmann

PLOT: A female detective investigating a serial rapist finds herself stalked by her quarry, while intermittently experiencing hallucinations when she looks at works of fine art.

Still from The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

COMMENTS: A little over halfway through The Stendhal Syndrome, Anna announces (slight spoiler) that she’s overcome the Stendhal Syndrome. She’s not kidding; she doesn’t hallucinate again (although her psychological struggles are far from over). Argento had used the Syndrome, a fanciful and dubious affliction in which viewers supposedly swoon into a fugue state when confronted with great works of art, as an excuse to stage a handful of hallucination sequences which, it turns out, were inessential to the plot.

The fact that syndrome supplying both the film’s title and its high concept would basically serve as a red herring indicates either a certain sloppiness, or an admirable disregard for conventional plotting by an auteur who’s always favored atmosphere over storytelling, depending on your point-of-view. Combined with the script’s predictable final twist and a number of superfluous scenes, I lean towards the confused execution opinion. There are other missteps, such as some clumsy and unnecessary CGI (pills down a throat, a bullet passing through a head), which comes across as the director playing with a new toy rather than as an element enhancing the story. All of which is not to say that The Stendhal Syndrome is a failure. It borders on the psychologically profound: Anna’s shifting identities and a recurring theme of gender confusion reflect a sympathetic, believable, and engaging view of a rape victim’s trauma. As always, Argento sniffs out poetic camera shots, e.g. Anna’s reflection trembling in a blood-red glass of wine. And the movie’s opening—a dialogue-free seven minute sequence of Anna wandering through Florence’s Uffizi, scored to Ennio Morricone’s deceptively simple, increasingly ominous theme, and ending with the heroine passing through the canvas surface of Bruegel’s “The Fall of Icarus,” then the diving under its painted water, where she eventually locks lips with a bulbous fish—is one of this director’s best standalone sequences. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie can’t live up to the mysterious promise here. The Stendhal Syndrome not quite the resurrection of the classic giallo form it might have been, but Argento fans will find enough spooky psychodrama to savor to make it worth a watch.

It’s awfully creepy to reflect on Dario directing his daughter Asia through the brutal rape scenes (though to be fair, she was only cast after a couple of other actresses, Bridget Fonda and , withdrew from the project). Asia’s acting here gets mixed reviews, but she has a classic beauty in three incarnations—regular Anna, tomboy Anna, and glamorous blonde Anna—and indulges in enough B-movie histrionics to carry the film. She positively shines compared to the rest of the blandly European cast. The English dubbing is atrocious, almost perfunctory like in a bottom-shelf vintage 1970s giallo, and the Italian soundtrack is recommended.

Blue Underground’s 2022 Blu-ray release is identical to their 2017 three disc limited edition, minus the DVD. Originally, this set shipped in a substandard video transfer; that issue was rectified and should not be a problem anymore. This version restores an additional two minutes of dialogue that were missing from previous U.S. releases.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…as fans of the Italian horror director may have guessed, [the syndrome is] little more than a suitably arcane jumping-off point for another of the filmmaker’s bizarre examinations of madness, obsession, and bloodshed.”–Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle (1999 US release)

14*. THE BABY OF MÂCON (1993)

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RecommendedBeware

DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Julia Ormond, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Stone, Jonathan Lacey, Frank Egerton

PLOT: A passion-play performed in 17th-century Florence tells the story of a child born to a geriatric woman. The old woman’s daughter claims to be the child’s virgin mother and makes brisk business selling the “miraculous” infant’s blessings, while the local bishop’s son suspiciously observes her. Meanwhile, the local nobles in the audience interact with the onstage proceedings.

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was partially inspired by an uproar surrounding an advertising campaign that featured a newborn baby still attached to its umbilical cord. Greenaway was perplexed by the public’s reaction, and set out to create an unflinching depiction of the actual evils of murder and rape.
  • The Catholic Church revoked permission for the film crew to shoot in the Cologne Cathedral after Greenaway’s previous film, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, & her Lover, aired on German television two days before shooting was to begin.
  • The Baby of Mâcon premiered at Cannes, but was seldom seen after that. Although it booked some dates in Europe, no North American distributor would agree to take on the film due to its subject matter. To this day it has still not been released on physical media in Region 1/A, although it finally became available for streaming in the 2020s.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It is a perennial challenge to choose one image from a Greenaway picture; he regards film as a visual medium, not a tool to adapt literature. The shot of the bored young aristocrat, Cosimo de Medici, knocking over the two-hundred-and-eighth pin, signifying the end to the erstwhile virgin’s gang-rape, best merges Greenaway’s sense of mise-en-scène, his disgust for authority, and his undercurrent of odd humor.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Body secretion auction; death by gang-rape

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fusing the most ornate costumes this side of the Baroque era with organized religion at its worst, The Baby of Mâcon is a lushly beautiful, sickening indictment of a fistful of humanity’s evils. Stylized stage performances integrate increasingly seamlessly with the side-chatter of (comparatively) modern viewers’ commentary who concurrently desire to take part in the make-believe. Greenaway moves his actors and their audience around each other with an expertise matched only by the growing moral horror developing onscreen.


Short clip from The Baby of Mâcon

COMMENTS: As the audience for The Baby of Mâcon, we bear witness to its iniquities. As witnesses, we bear responsibility: responsibility for the fraudulence of the baby’s aunt when she alleges she’s Continue reading 14*. THE BABY OF MÂCON (1993)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE WILD BOYS (2017)

Les garçons sauvages

DIRECTED BY: Bertrand Mandico

FEATURING: Anaël Snoek, , , Elina Löwensohn,

PLOT: After raping and accidentally murdering their literature teacher, a pentad of miscreant boys is sent to sea for discipline, under the supervision of a flinty captain.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Wilds Boys is, in many ways, easy to dismiss as pretentious French arthouse fare. That said, it’s an occasionally unnerving bit of cinema that hovers strangely between too little coherency and too much exposition while maintaining a fearlessness that would be hard to find State-side. Of course, there are only three official slots currently left on the List

COMMENTS: To get a feel for the nature of this beast, it may be worth noting that this movie disappeared from Amazon Prime’s video library after I had added it to my watch list. iTunes proved itself the braver host, however, and I watched Mandico’s feature debut on my desktop instead of my widescreen television. That might have been for the best, as it created an intimacy that would have been lacking otherwise. And if nothing else, The Wild Boys is a very intimate movie—teeming with claustrophobia, dreamy violence, grit, and trans-female/trans-feminist sermonizing.

Five upper class boys get drunk, rape, and inadvertently murder their literature teacher, perhaps at the behest of “Trevor”, a sequin-bejeweled god-demon they all fear. During a dreamy trial, replete with a space-Expressionist prosecutor, cosmic background, and two near-nude man pillars, each lad provides unconvincing, doctored testimony. They are convicted, but kept at their respective estates until a suitable punishment can be determined. Enter the captain: gruff, bearded, and severe. With a young woman and a younger man on a rope in his entourage, he explains to the boys’ assembled parents that he has a fail-safe method for fixing their sons’ defiant, cruel, and rape-y behavior. He cannot, however, guarantee that all the boys will survive. Despite this, the parents approve of the plan, and the boys are sent off to sea. As warned, the boys do not survive their ordeal—as boys.

The film’s disorienting nature is on display right at the beginning: a wild boy, a self-inflicted head wound, Aleksey German-style camera, and lustful sailors. The dark fairy tale feel is augmented by the largely black and white photography and the choice of rounding the edges of our field of vision throughout. There is visual chaos, most troublingly during the rape scene. This violation looks like it could have come from straight from a nightmare—and immediately explains why The Wild Boys is unrated. Hereabouts, it would have gotten at least an “X” rating. (I was prompted to wonder, “Can showing teenage boys with erections be child pornography even if the boys are played by of-age[?] women with realistic prosthetics?”)

The director’s choice to veer into the direction he does—that, were the world populated exclusively by women, there’d be much less violence—is a little hackneyed. But at the same time he seems to undermine this thesis through the inclusion of murder of innocent sailors at the hands of “converts.” Mandico’s film is still worth a view for those curious about any of the “tags” below, as it is unlike any other dissection of those issues I’ve seen. As for its straight-up weird cred, here are some things to which I bore witness: captain’s map-tattooed member; open-faced uterus gun holster; cactus ambrosia-jizz plant. Yep.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“French director Bertrand Mandico turns the arthouse weirdness dial up to 11 with his erotically uninhibited and deeply bizarre feature debut set at the turn of the last century.”–Cath Clarke, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE BABY OF MÂCON (1993)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Peter Greenaway

FEATURING: Julia Ormond, , Philip Stone, Jonathan Lacey

PLOT: The story of a pseudo-miraculous infant unfolds in an elaborate passion play, which we watch along with 17th-century Italian aristocrats as they take in, and at times partake in, the play’s action.

Still from The Baby of Macon (1993)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Beyond my usual answer of, “quite frankly, every Greenaway movie probably qualifies for the List,” is the less fatalist reason that The Baby of Mâcon should count among the weirdest movies of all time because it makes all other Greenaway films (except, perhaps, The Falls) feel positively accessible and happy. More a recording of a hyper-sumptuous stage production than a film, this movie is such an embodiment of hyper-stylized hyper-formalism it proves that Peter Greenaway can, like Spinal Tap’s guitar amp, “go to eleven.”

COMMENTS: Despite his oeuvre’s opulence, stylishness, and glamour, Peter Greenaway could never be accused of catering to any audience other than himself. I mean this as no criticism. The reception to his films proves that there are non-Greenaways out there who can get on the same wavelength and, if not always enjoy, then at least appreciate the detailed grandeur of his vision. The Baby of Mâcon checks its way down the Greenaway list: stylized setting and dialogue, grandiose presentation, and a vicious current of sadism. We’ve seen that he can be lyrical (The Pillow Book), quirky (The Falls), and, sometimes, even commercially successful (The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, & her Lover). The Baby of Mâcon, however, is Greenaway at his angriest. Watching this film is like watching a back-alley murder scored by Wagner and choreographed by Baryshnikov.

The story is a simple plot of cynicism hijacked by vengeance. Sometime in the middle of the last millennium, a baby is born. The baby’s actual mother was long thought barren, and through some quick maneuverings, one of her daughters (Julia Ormond) claims to have birthed the child through some immaculate conception. A local Bishop’s son (Ralph Fiennes) is, along with his father, skeptical. The baby has his own evil streak and condemns the Bishop’s son to death by ox-goring for having almost taken (consensually) his false-mother’s virginity. The Bishop (Philip Stone) finds his son dead, takes the child, and exploits him further. The boy is killed by his false-mother, who herself is condemned to a fate that would be best left unsaid.

Nonetheless, it must be. Peter Greenaway, through all the pomp, costumery, and stylization of the dialogue, shows his true fury at religion, the aristocracy, and much else about societal order. With the blessing of the in-film audience member Cosimo Medici (Jonathan Lacey), the false-mother of the titular child is doomed to a death by rape. I won’t trouble you with the “logic” behind it, but through one of his beloved lists, Greenaway subjects his character to hundreds of such experiences, consecutively, at the hands of the local militia—all blessed and “pre-forgiven” for their acts by the Bishop. All this is done before an audience who gaze, along with us, at the cruelty. They, however, are observers of a “morality play”; we have the discomfort of acknowledging how immoral the play’s events are. The only blameless character, the Bishop’s son, is the unfortunate catalyst of this evil. He is referred to as a scientist before his demise, and seems of a level head. No room for him in this world of intrigue, superstition, and malice.

There is simultaneously not much more to say about this film, as well as extensive remarks to be made about the reams of allusions throughout. Uncharacteristically for Greenaway, there is often a great deal of on-screen confusion (à la Aleksey German), as the camera is often (seemingly) obtusely placed, mimicking the position of an audience member of a stage play. It is left to us to follow the action, scouring the screen for what is happening where.

A bit of trivia: this was Ralph Fiennes’ second film role. His third, which would make him famous, is substantially more uplifting and, even, more cheerful—Schindler’s List. Released the same year as The Baby of Mâcon, film distributors in North America found it easier to put the evils of the Holocaust on display than to reckon with the malignity found in Greenaway’s offering.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Not even Ken Russell could have dreamed up the stew of grotesque religiosity, slavering voyeurism and sexual violence that is Peter Greenaway’s 1993 movie, ‘The Baby of Macon’…”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (1997 screening)

246. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

Kanashimi no Beradonna

“With all of this splendid weirdness—Michelet’s occult/feminist novel, Fukai’s ravishingly beautiful, X-rated illustrations, and Satoh’s brain-shredding score—what could possibly go wrong? Everything, according to director Yamomoto.”–Dennis Bartok, explaining Belladonna of Sadness‘s commercial failure at the time of its release in the liner notes to the Cinelicious Blu-ray release.

Recommended

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Eiichi Yamamoto

FEATURING: Voices of Chinatsu Nakayama, Aiko Nagayama, , Katsuyuki Itô, Masaya Takahashi

PLOT: In medieval Europe, peasants Jean and Jeanne go to their local Lord to bless their unconsummated marriage, but the royals gang-rape the bride instead because Jean cannot afford the outrageous matrimonial tax. Later, Jeanne is visited by a demon who promises to give her power to oppose the Lord’s might and get revenge. At first she resists, but as the Lord’s outrages mount, she finally gives herself to Satan fully and becomes a powerful witch.

Still from Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • This film was the third part of a trilogy of adult animation features on Western themes commissioned by legendary anime pioneer Osama Tezuka (famous for the television manga adaptations “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”) and his Mushi studio. The first in the series was 1969’s erotic version of “The Arabian Tales,” A Thousand & One Nights (also directed by Yamamoto). Nights was a commercial hit (although it remains unavailable on home video), so the studio went ahead with Cleopatra in 1970 (which Yamamoto co-directed with Tezuka). Cleopatra was a commercial and artistic flop, but the studio went ahead with Belladonna of Sadness anyway. Tezuka left Mushi before the final film was completed, and Belladonna bombed even harder than Cleopatra. Mushi went bankrupt soon after. Belladonna was exhibited in only a handful of lower echelon theaters in Japan and only lightly released outside of that country until 2015’s rediscovery and reappraisal.
  • The unlikely source material for Belladonna of Sadness was Jules Michelet’s 1862 non-fiction book “Le sorciere” (AKA “Satanism and Witchcraft“), a sympathetic treatment which cast the practice of witchcraft as a protest against the feudal system and the power of the Church.
  • “Belladonna” literally means “beautiful woman” in Italian, but it is also the name of a toxic hallucinogenic plant thought to have been used in ancient witchcraft rituals.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Without a doubt, the initial rape scene. Although the movie contains shocking, unforgettable, wild and weird imagery throughout, the expressionistic violation of Jeanne, showing her being split in twain like a wishbone as her crotch emits a bloody geyser that morphs into crimson bats who fly away, was the only one that made me mutter out loud “wow”!

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Bloody rape bats; Satan is a dick; surrealist daisy chain orgy

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Belladonna of Sadness is like watching Saturday morning cartoons mixed with high art mixed with hentai, laced with acid. It’s some damned thing that you’ve never seen before.


U.S. release trailer for Belladonna of Sadness

COMMENTS: We owe a huge debt of gratitude to whoever’s idea it Continue reading 246. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)