Tag Archives: Sex

CAPSULE: A HOLE IN MY HEART (2004)

Ett hål i mitt hjärta

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Björn Almroth, Thorsten Flinck, Goran Marjanovic, Sanna Bråding,

PLOT: A son watches as his father and a pair of actors shoot an increasingly violent and depraved amateur porn movie in their small apartment.

Still from A Hole in My Heart (2004)

COMMENTS: Lukas Moodysson has had a strange career. He began as a poet and novelist before moving into cinema with his debut, Fucking Åmål [AKA Show Me Love], a realistic lesbian romance. After another crowd-pleasing drama, the commune-set Together, he went into darker (but still realistic) territory with Lilya 4-ever, a bleak drama about a Russian girl sold into sex slavery. After this well-received trio, Moodysson was a critical darling with a large home-grown fan base. Seemingly, he decided to blow it all up with the deliberately off-putting experiment A Hole in My Heart.

There’s not much story to Hole. A young man lives with his dad. He rarely leaves his room, partly because the father is using the rest of the apartment as a set to produce a series of amateur porn films with his two live-in actors (one male, one female). In between shoots, the three principals dance and party as the son hangs out alone in his room, tending his earthworms and listening to industrial music on his headphones. The porn scenarios begin as normal sex acts but escalate into pseudo-rapes, force-feeding, and vomit play (the latter somewhat reminiscent of the commune orgies from Sweet Movie.) At one point, the female actor angrily abandons the group, but soon returns to pick up where they left off, acting as if nothing had ever happened. Some character development occurs: the son and father discuss the boy’s dead mother, the actor and male director bond when the latter reveals he has a serious illness (a hole in his heart?) that causes him to occasionally pass out, and the actress flirts with the son, falling short of a seduction but nevertheless producing a bond. Everyone seems to be seeking love, but not finding it. The film ends inconclusively.

The material here is disconcerting enough—the three porn producers block out upcoming scenes using barbie dolls, who sometime lose limbs in the process—but Moodysson deploys infuriating formal tricks to discombobulate the audience. The soundtrack barfs up a lot of grating, staticky noises at random moments. Though the story is ultimately told mostly in chronological order, the editing is often non-linear, crosscutting quiet conversations with sex scenes. There’s a dream sequence featuring crop circles. Moodysson interrupts the flow with snippets of real surgery footage, of both the labiaplasty and the open-heart variety. The entire things is shot faux-documentary style, with indifferent framing, unflattering lighting, and with both product labels and faces of extras fogged out. (At one point, the main cast’s faces are digitally obscured, too, suggesting the characters’ shame and lack of consent to be filmed under these degrading circumstances).

The overall feel of Hole in the Heart is of one of those nihilistic experiments of or . At its best, it approaches a provocation like The Idiots (1998). But Hole fails to generate empathy for the characters inhabiting its squalid setting, leaving little impact other than a dyspeptic stomach. The one thing that saves Moodysson’s experiment from total failure (and a rating) is that the screed does have a particular target, the adult entertainment industry, and it does suggest, through pornographic poetry, how that commercial concern sucks in the vulnerable and distracts humanity from making healthy connections. That’s an intellectually thin message, however, and one that’s largely drowned out by the rivers of blood and vomit on screen.

Moodysson followed up this effort with the even weirder (but less disgusting) Container, an abstract avant-garde movie that nearly cost him all his remaining supporters. Her returned to realism with 2009’s Mammoth, then won fans and critics back with the heartwarming nostalgic coming-of-age story We Are the Best! in 2013. All seven of his features are collected in Arrow’s “The Lukas Moodysson Collection.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…not so much about story as moods, atmosphere and symbolism. At times, its use of sound and flickering images recalls films like ‘Eraserhead’ and the symbolism of early Bunuel. From the beginning, there is a sense of dread and uneasiness, and this feeling only gets stronger by the minute until it feels like the film itself will explode.”–Gunnar Rehlin, Variety (contemporaneous)

DOUBLE CAPSULE: AM I NORMAL?: A FILM ABOUT MALE PUBERTY (1979) / FLOWERS AND BOTTOMS (2016)

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Talking frankly about sex (without becoming lewd or lascivious) is among the most difficult tasks we as a society face, and arguably our failure to do so in a mature and productive manner is responsible for an unconscionable percentage of the world’s problems. And yet we continue to just not do it. Embarrassment and cultural taboos are the chief reasons, but a significant (if rarely discussed) cause has to be that we’re so bad at it. Not for nothing is there an award given annually for the worst description of sex in literature. 

Even in this rarefied air, the awkwardness and supreme un-coolness of the sex ed film is beyond calculation. And one such representative of this genre that has garnered cult recognition is a product of the Boston Family Planning Project that presumably ended up in schools across America at the start of the 80s and accomplished the goal of making sex an even less desirable topic of conversation. “Am I Normal?” lingers in the imagination four decades later because it is so strangely goofy at presenting the subject of sexuality in the adolescent male. We’re already primed to laugh at that which unsettles or disturbs us, like a boggart in the cupboard, so directors Debra Franco and David Shepard make the understandable decision to leaven the awkward nature of the topic with humor. Unfortunately, the nature of the silliness is so over-the-top that it rarely works as humor and barely works as education.

To its credit, the film recognizes its challenges, especially when it comes to teenagers. Having been caught with an untimely physical reaction to an invitation from Susie (Jennifer Adelson) to go to the movies, our protagonist Jimmy (Joel Doolin) and his wrestling champion-sized belt buckle wander around town looking for sex advice like the bird in “Are You My Mother?” He asks anyone and everyone for information about these strange new physical and emotional sensations, and his advisors are a motley crew, including his best pal who sits in the school locker room reading a book entitled Great Moments in Sex, a zookeeper who admits to seeing all kinds of penises in his job (“Animal penises!” he quickly clarifies), and his own father, who compares the private parts of men and women to a baseball bat and a catcher’s mitt. (No points for guessing which is which.)  

The information imparted is benign and actually kind of helpful. (Worth noting that Jimmy gets something closer to straight answers when he turns to authority figures who dispense knowledge, such as a librarian or the school nurse. Also interesting that they’re both women.) But the delivery of each nugget carries with it the blunt Continue reading DOUBLE CAPSULE: AM I NORMAL?: A FILM ABOUT MALE PUBERTY (1979) / FLOWERS AND BOTTOMS (2016)

CAPSULE: ANATOMY OF HELL (2004)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Amira Casar, Rocco Siffredi, voice of Catherine Breillat

PLOT: A woman pays a gay man to observe her intimate moments for four nights.

Still from Anatomy of Hell (2004)

COMMENTS: Sartre said Hell is other people. Catherine Breillat says Hell is other people’s bodies; or, more specifically, other genders’ bodies; or, when you get right down to it, women’s bodies.

A Woman goes to a gay disco and slits her wrists in the bathroom. She’s rescued by a gay Man, who takes her to a clinic to be stitched up. The Woman proposes to pay him to “watch her when she’s unwatchable.” He goes to her house for four nights, pours himself a few fingers of Jack Daniels to help him make it through the night, and they talk while she lies naked and exposed. “They fragility of female flesh inspires disgust or brutality,” he muses. “The veils [men] adorn us with anticipate our shrouds,” the Woman proclaims. (The conversation is not intended to be naturalistic; it’s a staged Platonic dialogue with a poetic overlay). While never verbally expressing anything but disgust for the Woman, the Man is drawn to experiment intimately with her body (including scenes involving garden tools, and worse). Then the arrangement ends. He is moved, and, in what may be a fantasy sequence, commits an act of brutality. That’s it; it’s partially successful conversion therapy.

Siffredi, a pornographic actor best known for his recurring “Buttman” character, turns out to be a surprisingly capable actor—although his moods are restricted to disgust and melancholy, both simmering. Casar is beautiful as she lounges around naked, but her role could be played by almost any beautiful nude actress. Although she shows more range than Siffredi, as any actress might, she has trouble putting across dialogue like “in intercourse, the act isn’t what matters, but its meaning.” Casar’s body double is anatomically correct. Breillat herself dubs the thoughts for both parties.  And that’s it for the acting—which is a problem, in what’s basically a character-driven two-hander (explicit though it is, it’s so anti-erotic that could never make the grade as a one-hander).

On release, Anatomy of Hell received a lot of understandable criticism for its overly-simplistic brand of radical gender philosophy. Taken literally, the film argues (explicitly and didactically, despite the poetic trappings) that men are disgusted by women’s bodies and instinctively long to damage them—and that this misogyny is even more pronounced in gay men. That’s not a position I would want to defend in a Ph.D. thesis. But while that literal reading is both ridiculous and offensive, there is another layer to the film that is hopeful. Despite his disgust at The Woman’s body, The Man is eventually seduced by it. And after the job is done, he finds himself changed by the experience: “I experienced total intimacy with her. And I don’t even know her name.” Radical posturing aside, Anatomy of Hell at least partly celebrates the alchemy of shared human bodies: that point when carnal disgust is overcome and physical commingling becomes a spiritual experience. Look past words to the magic of bodies, this wordy picture whispers. Though mercifully short, Anatomy of Hell is a hard watch, composed of dull, pseudo-profound dialogues broken by shock sequences designed to reinforce its putative thesis that female bodies are disgusting. It’s not recommended, but—if you can bypass the untenable literal reading its characters propose—this erotic experiment is more thought-provoking than its detractors suggest.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“But sometimes [Breillat] is just plain goofy, as in ‘Anatomy of Hell,’ which plays like porn dubbed by bitter deconstructionist theoreticians.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Motyka, who asked for more Breillat reviews and stated that Anatomy of Hell was “especially worth looking at, because of its rejection of a traditional plot.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

22*. A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002)

 Rokugatsu no hebi

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Yûji Kôtari, Shinya Tsukamoto

PLOT: Rinko is a shy and inhibited woman working as a counselor at a suicide hotline. One day, a photographer she previously helped sends her compromising photos of herself. The stalking turns into blackmail when he forces her to live out her erotic fantasies, which take on an increasingly hallucinatory character.

Still from A Snake of June (2002)

BACKGROUND:

  • Shinya Tsukamoto’s seventh film, after Gemini (1999).
  • A Snake of June debuted at the 59th Venice International Film Festival (2002), where it won a special award (the Kinematrix Film Award, which does not appear to have been awarded before or since).
  • Tsukamoto and main actress Asuka Kurosawa were respectively awarded the Special Jury Award and Best Actress Award at 2003’s edition of Fantasporto (Porto International Film Festival).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The unusual garb of the erotic cabaret’s patrons, who sport funnel masks as they watch an equally offbeat performance.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Erotic drowning performance; corrugated pipe assault

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although modest by the director’s standards, A Snake of June stands out by all other measures of weirdness through its gradual abandonment of conventional narrative logic to indulge in surreal displays of interlacing horror, desire and sadism.


Restoration trailer for A Snake of June (2002)

COMMENTS: A Snake of June starts off surprisingly restrained for a Continue reading 22*. A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON! (1997)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Tom Larson, Charis Michelsen, Richard Spore

PLOT: Mid-orgasm, two birds crash into Grant’s satellite receiver, whose redirected beam gives him super powers.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: When the line, “Have you ever tried to tell a 50-ton tank to stop having sex?” makes perfect sense in context, it stands to reason the surrounding film is peculiar. Plympton’s surrealist animated comedy is fit to burst with caterpillar daydreams, organ juggling, and boobs big enough to fill the house.

COMMENTS: The word “strange” is right in the title, along with an appropriate exclamation mark. The film opens with a bit of duck sex, replete with tongue-chomping, teeth-shattering lust (literally, figuratively speaking). And as a flight-of-fantasy indictment of network television’s pervasive malignancy, it’s somewhat ironic that the hero—Grant, the “strange person” of the title—received his phenomenal powers from that very danger. But perhaps it’s not ironic so much as appropriate. If this movie is at all suggestive of Bill Plympton’s views, he finds the human mind far more nonsensical than any invention yet made manifest.

On the topic of manifesting, that is just the power our hero develops. After the amorous anatidaean opener, we meet Grant, an accountant (or something) with the squarest jaw and doublest chin this side of Hollywood’s heroic age. With a pulsating boil on the back of his neck, his day-dreamy outlook changes his reality: the insects his mother-in-law fears appear from her clothes and swarm into her mouth; his chirpy, lawn-mowing neighbor ends up pursued by a giant, psychotic blade of grass with a vendetta; and mid-coitus his wife’s boobs grow to ginormous size, crashing through rooms and smashing through windows. All this does not go unnoticed, neither by the witnesses of his visions-made-real, nor by SmileCorp studio’s Machiavellian overlord, Larson P. Giles.

But back to the sex. It is with a modicum of surprise that I found this film to be R-rated. Granted, it’s animation: a medium in which one can get away with a lot more than any live action equivalent. Bodily explosions, a man hog-tied with another’s intestines, and so on: these are kinds of things that could not get a live action theatrical release, R-rated or otherwise. And there are plenty of “these kinds of things” in Strange Person. In one long-form example, Grant’s friend Solly, a comedian on the cusp of failure, saves his act through sheer force of showmanship by self-dismantling in front of a live studio audience.

But back to the sex. I have seen few non-pornographic films with more sex than I found in I Married a Strange Person! That is not to say any of it was erotic. Plympton’s style doesn’t bend that way; instead, it bends as far away as possible from mundane concerns—like sex. It’s there, but presented on the very edges of acceptable taste (much less “good taste”, a concept decried in an opening quotation from Picasso), smashing like a pastel hammer into the viewer’s consciousness. What truly tips the scale, with weirdo-violent aplomb, is the film’s sweetness. The musical interludes (“Would You Love Me If…?” and “How’d You Get So Cute?” among them) and the overarching theme of love and forgiveness add a saccharine spike of whimsy to the absurd and violent reverie. Rest assured, I Married a Strange Person! ends on a happy note… of sex.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Plympton] is head and shoulders above Spumco, Spike and Mike, and yes, even hometown boy Mike Judge when it comes to creating the weirdest, wildest, most sublimely outré cartoons in the world… Absurdist comedy of this sort is rarely seen these days…”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)