Tag Archives: Sadomasochism

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ISLE [SEOM] (2000)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim

PLOT: A mute woman who runs a fishing resort becomes obsessed with a suicidal fugitive hiding out in one of the floating cabins.

Still from The Isle [Seom] (2000)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bizarre, perverted sadomasochistic love story in a unique setting, made with skill and a few touches of surrealism.

COMMENTS: One of the most unique features of The Isle is the peculiar setting: a fishing resort on a picture-postcard lake dotted with one-room floating cabins for rent. Guests spend their days drinking beer, staring at the misty mountains in the distance, and fishing off their doorstep; while there they are almost completely dependent on the stunningly beautiful, mute proprietress, who ferries them back and forth to the shore and delivers bait, coffee, and prostitutes in her dinghy. (The hideaway appears to make more money off of escort services and wealthy men sailing their mistresses out to a bungalow for some floating hanky-panky than it does off of fishing). One day, the woman pilots a quiet, handsome man out to the yellow float; he catches her eye when she discovers that he is suicidal and has sailed out to the lake to work up the courage to bump himself off. This is the setup for a very odd romance that develops between two lovers with tormented pasts—backstories that are never fully explained but are hinted at by the obsessive fury with which they fall for each other and the self-loathing ferocity with which they mutilate themselves.

For a romantic drama, The Isle has a relatively high body count; but, despite a few horrific moments, no one will confuse this arthouse effort with a slasher. The tone is always straightforward and serious—even solemn—and this matter-of-fact treatment makes some of the bizarre occurrences near the end seem almost believable. The aquatic setting supplies a built-in metaphor for submerged meanings and hidden psychological depths, and beautifully murky underwater shots abound. Particularly lovely is a shot where Jung Suh, whose character moves above and below the waterline at will, peers down into the fathoms while her long jet black hair floats like seaweed behind her. Other strange and memorable moments include what is likely to be the most improbable and painfully gruesome suicide attempt you’ve ever seen, and a mysteriously surreal parting shot of a bushy island of green reeds. Evoking the mysterious power of mutually destructive attraction, The Isle is a movie that just might get its hooks in you—although hopefully not as literally as it gets its hooks inside its characters.

Fair warning to animal lovers: it does not appear that the Korean chapter of PETA was allowed on set for this shoot, as violence against vertebrates is a running theme in the film. The Isle features a frog skinned and pulled apart, sushi made and eaten from a living fish as it flops around, a drowned bird, and a dog choked by a leash and struck. Although some of the cruelty is faked, some of it clearly is not.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a thoroughly original item that adds further fuel to South Korea’s recent rep for sexually themed offbeaters.”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)

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

105. BELLE DE JOUR (1967)

“By the end, the real and imaginary fuse; for me they form the same thing.”–Luis Buñuel on Belle de Jour

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel

FEATURING: , Jean Sorel, , Michel Piccoli,

PLOT: Séverine is a wealthy young newlywed who proclaims she loves her husband, but refuses to sleep with him. Her erotic life consists of daydreams in which she is bound, whipped and humiliated. She decides to secretly work as a prostitute during the day, taking the stage name “Belle de Jour”; in the course of her adventures a macho young criminal becomes obsessed with Belle, and he sparks sexual passion in her, as well.

Still from Belle de Jour (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was based on a scandalous (but moralizing) 1928 novel of the same name by Joseph Kessel.
  • Belle de Jour marked Buñuel’s return to France after his “Mexican exile.”  It was the 67-year old director’s most expensive production to date, his first film in color, and his biggest financial success.
  • The director did not get along with the star, and the feeling was mutual. Buñuel resented Deneuve because she was forced on him by the producers. For her part, the actress felt “used” by the director.  Whatever their differences, however, they made up enough to collaborate again three years later on Tristana.
  • Séverine’s courtesan name, “Belle de Jour” (literally “day beauty”) is the French name for the daylily; it is also play on “belle de nuit,” slang for a prostitute.
  • Too spicy for critics in 1967, Belle de Jour won only one major award at the time of its release: the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.  It now regularly appears on critics top 100 lists (Empire ranked it as the 56th greatest film of world cinema).
  • Martin Scorsese was behind a 1995 theatrical re-release of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The ecstatic look on Catherine Deneuve’s face as, tied up and dressed in virginal white, she’s insulted and spattered with shovelfuls of mud (or is it cow dung?).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although the movie weaves in and out of dreams and reality until we don’t know which is which, by Luis Buñuel’s standards Belle de Jour is a straightforward dramatic film.  Even the dream sequences are relatively rational, unthreatening, and easy to follow, making Belle the favorite “Surrealist” film of people who don’t like Surrealism.  But something about the dilemma of Séverine/Belle’s divided personality, and her uncertain denouement, sticks with you long after “Fin” appears.  The movie’s weirdness is subtle but persistent, like the scent of a woman’s perfume that lingers in the air long after she’s departed the room.


Original trailer for Belle de Jour

COMMENTS:  Cinematographer Gil Taylor famously said “I hate doing this to a beautiful woman” Continue reading 105. BELLE DE JOUR (1967)

CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

AKA:  Kiss Me Kill Me

DIRECTED BY:  Corrado Farina

FEATURING: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funès,

PLOT: A fashion photographer is beguiled by a lesbian witch who seeks to dominate, seduce and consume her.

Still from Baba Yaga (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTBab Yaga is straight Euro-thriller.  While such films have an unconventional feel by US standards, the style is characteristic of this distinctive 1960’s-’70’s genre, and therefore very conventional on its own terms.

COMMENTSBaba Yaga is a very stylish Italian occult film in the Euro horror tradition of Suspiria.  It is based on artist Guido Crepax’s highly stylized graphic novel about a sorceress who tries to bewitch a fashion photographer.  Crepax adapted the novel from his risqué S&M comic .

Valentina (De Funès) is an up and coming fashion photographer with a knack for controversial shoots.  After she has a chance encounter with the fashionable and alluring society matron Baba Yaga, her life takes strange and eerie turns.  Yaga discovers Valentina on a darkened street, becomes attracted to her and begins to inject herself into the young shutterbug’s life in odd ways.  Yaga develops a strange fixation on Valentina, one that is more than platonic.

Yaga lives in a striking Gothic Revival mansion, it’s interiors bedecked with layers of satin, red velvet –and heavy leather in the boudoir.  While the house is very luxurious, it is in need of a few repairs.  There is a nasty hole under the oriental rug in the drawing room—the opening of a bottomless pit to Hell.  It is only fitting to have an eccentric home, because the owner isn’t exactly mainstream.  Babs is taken with keeping vipers and Australian fruit bats for pets, has some creepy taxidermy a la Norman Bates, and owns a collection of cursed curios.

In a gesture of benevolence, Baba Yaga gives Valentina a large Victorian doll “to protect” her.  Valentina counters that she doesn’t need any protection.  Well, she does now!  The Continue reading CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)