WEIRD LOVE: THE WORLD’S TOP 10 ART-HOUSE INCEST MOVIES

Eugene Vasiliev provides 366 Weird Movies with his own translation/adaptation of his original article, which appeared in Russian here.

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

10. Murderous Maids [Les blessures assassines] (2000) (France)

DIRECTED BY: Jean-Pierre Denis

PLOT: Two lustful maids (and sisters) turn tricks in the attic, until caught red-handed by their housemistress. They ignore her remonstrances and calls to virtue. In fact, the two “guilty” servants thrash their mistress and her daughter to death after gouging out their eyes.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Domestic workers’ struggle for equal rights is sometimes an uphill battle.

Scores of movies about incest feature absent fathers, mothers, delinquent daughters, and criminal sons. Religious families, orphaned children, widowed mothers, and the underclass form fertile ground for weird love. (A rare exception is a case of upper-class incest in Louis Malle‘s Murmur of the Heart, discussed below.)

Still from Murderous Maids (2000)

Murderous Maids is based on a real case that shocked France in 1933, when the Papin sisters brutally murdered their employers. The film shows us how things went so bad in a very long and tedious way up until the denouement. The ruthless exploitation of the poor orphans, fated to live their lives at someone’s beck and call in a noble house, stirs up indignation in the viewer’s heart. Throughout the movie the unfortunate “feminists” are forced to iron clothes or scrub toilets.

Amazingly, the unholy acts that “the midnight maidens” do look innocent at first. They just relax for a moment in a bizarre position after vacuuming. Then something goes wrong. What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. They wish for the ground to swallow them up, but it doesn’t. The sisters then try to wipe out reality,  press the “DELETE” button, by gouging out the eyes of their mistress.

There was a trial, a society scandal, and a dungeon. In 1941 the younger sister–Lea Papin—was set free. She died at the age of 89, outliving her employers by almost 70 years.

9. A Woman’s Way [Strella] (2009) (Greece)

DIRECTED BY: Panos H. Koutras

PLOT: After serving 14 years behind bars for the murder of a promiscuous woman, a Greek man suddenly realizes that he was deeply wrong. He comes to believe true virtue isn’t found in fasting and praying, but in incest, sodomy, and other types of taboo love.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Cinema is an art of illusion.

The great French film theorist Jean Epstein noted in his book “Bonjour, Cinema” back in 1921: “The close-up alters drama through the impression of proximity. Pain is within reach. If I extend my arm, I touch your intimacy… I count the eyelashes of this suffering.”1.

Still from A Woman's Way (2009)

Extreme close-ups, zoom-ins and creepy music transform your perception of reality. Art can justify any sin, make black into white and green into yellow. Panos H. Koutras made a movie with an innocent storyline, but a devious idea, into cinema art.

8. The Cement Garden (1993) (France/Germany/UK)

DIRECTED BY: Andrew Birkin

PLOT: The father and mother of four children die. The eldest daughter and son soon strip naked and get laid. The middle son,  a third grader, wants to become a girl. The younger daughter indulges his whims.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The origin of tolerance in Europe.

The Cement Garden is a signature movie about incest that can be stored in an iron safe in the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in the suburbs of Paris. It features all the bells and whistles that movies about incest use to varying degrees, such as dying parents or parents being killed (Burning Bridges, Murderous Maids, Bad Boy Bubby), fatherless and motherless children (The Devils, “Dekalog 4,” Miss Violence), a despotic father (Dogtooth, Murderous Maids). In The Cement Garden the kids bury a parent in a cement tomb as a symbol of the cursed past.

Still from The Cement Garden (1993)

The drama is held together by the idea of “the comprehensive struggle for human rights, for women’s equality and against racial discrimination.” A struggle for all that’s good, against all that’s bad.

After World War II, an era of kindness and niceness came to Europe. The degree of humanism went off the scale in the late sixties and early seventies. By 1968 films, books, and songs of this kind were produced on an industrial scale. This movie is based on the 1978 novel of the same name written by Ian McEwan. In 1978, incest as a social phenomenon mattered little. It was just a form of recreation for Europeans.

7. Bad Boy Bubby (1993) (Australia/Italy)

DIRECTED BY: Rolf de Heer

PLOT: A dumb and fat divorcee has trapped her son in a sleazy basement. She feeds him porridge, puts on a gas mask, washes in the bathroom, strips naked, jumps on him and rides him, and tells him that the outside world is poisoned, until her first love returns—Bad Boy Bubby’s dad. Bubby respects his father and his mother. He keeps their covenants blindly and faithfully. Sometime later, he wraps a cat, then the dad and the mom, in cellophane, and breaks out of the bunker into a port city. As Solomon put it: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:  The hypocrisy of the politically correct world.

Bad Boy Bubby is a sad forerunner of Borat, which self-righteous men, uptight women, and members of the American Humane Society shouldn’t watch. In the second part of the drama, the little prince who escapes to freedom obeys the instructions of pedestrians, policemen, drivers and all kind of people. He copies their behavior. For this he is stomped on, incarcerated, raped, and wiped out in every way. Yet for all that, Good ultimately defeats Evil. Amazingly, there is a happy end.

Still from Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

This movie aside, it’s depressing realize that hypocrisy has triumphed in our politically correct civilization within over the latest 30-50 years. We have drowned truth and freedom in a swamp of lies. The movie was made in distant 1993. In 2020, filmmaker’s can be imprisoned for some graphic scenes. Now it’s impossible to strangle a cat on camera by wrapping it in polyethylene 24 times like the brave Rolf De Heer did, or to set a cow on fire like the great .

6. The Devils [Les Diables] (2002) (France/Spain)

DIRECTED BY: Christophe Ruggia

PLOT: The close struggle of a thieving sister and brother against the world imperialism and French burghers.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The ambiguity of feelings.

A green-eyed sister, who ran away from a shelter with her jock brother, is rampaging, shoplifting, and stabbing witnesses in the South of France. The life of a rebel is difficult, especially for 15-year olds.

Even if we ignore the “shameful relations,” it is impossible to miss the fact that the The Devils is the direct heir of the French New Wave. Rebellion, resentment, loitering in the vicinity of large cities, all  hallmarks of such movies as The Lovers, Breathless, The 400 Blows, Band of Outsiders, Pierrot le Fou, My Life to Live, and scores of others. Yet as a Russian, this French defiance and these Gallic rebels make me smirk. The country of the bloody Bolsheviks knows what the real rebellion is. European films about nonconformism seem too prissy in comparison to the exploits of anarchist Nestor Makhno, everyday delinquency in Russia, and such movies as The Green Elephant and The Bastards.

Still from The Devils (2002)

The Devils is a story of fall and redemption, and a coming-of-age tale. The clumsy beauty of Chloe (performed by the gorgeous Adele Haenel) is intoxicating. The audience first goes down to a dungeon with turquoise water, and then flies high up a hill to see how “the vice” excites.

5. Womb (2010) (Germany/Hungary/France)

DIRECTED BY: Benedek Fliegauf

PLOT: A devastated wife decides to resurrect her husband by impregnating herself with his DNA.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The origin of lust.

“And I will always love you my darling”, says Rebecca (the protagonist of this brave movie) after her husband Tommy comes to a sticky end in a traffic accident. The newlyweds had loved each other since childhood and just experienced a long separation. Outside her window, the ocean whispers his name. It is the middle of the 21st century and cloning has become routine. The crestfallen Rebecca decides to bear a copy of Tommy into her womb. After all, the corpse has not yet cooled down, and contemporary medicine affords an opportunity.

Time flies. Rebecca and the brand-new Tommy have to move to a remote location, because in the future, despite the technology, there is no tolerance anymore, and everybody hates clones, who are harassed in the streets and bullied in schools. The curly-haired boy grows up, gets straight A’s, and pleases his mother, until one day he invites a girlfriend to his bedroom.

Still from Womb (2010)

On the surface the plot seems like a call to chastity. It rehashes the message of many dystopias of the 20th century (for example, the last chapter of the novel “A History of the World in 10½ Chapters” by Julian Barnes, where the greatest torment for a person is the fulfillment of all his desires in Hell-Paradise: “Be afraid of your desires, as they can come true”). But that message is disrupted by the visual lust.

Despite the fact that Tommy, in the end, leaves Rebecca, as a lesson for her and all “sinners,” Peter Szatmari’s camera ridicules naive spectators. The warm beds, cashmere sweaters, and playful hugs and kisses confirm the old saying, “The greatest lust comes from the greatest shame.”

4. Cowards Bend the Knee, or the Blue Hands (2003) (Canada)

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

PLOT: A sick hockey player takes his bride to get an abortion. Wax sculptures are hiding a museum. A doctor scrutinizes sperm. The abortionist agrees to cut the hands of ice hockey players. The barber’s daughter wants revenge.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Every person is a poet, even if he has not written a single line; a poet when his eyelids stick together, and he dreams. Unfortunately, it is impossible to describe a nighttime dream in daytime language. It is next to impossible to convey a dream with the help of literature, painting or sculpture. Perhaps only the cinema of a handful of filmmakers can express the poetry of the inner world. Guy Maddin is among the few who can navigate the ocean of dreams. His silent and autobiographical drama Cowards Bend the Knee is the pinnacle of oddity and the decadent aesthetic. If you love ice-hockey, silent movies, and camp, you can’t think of a better movie. Apart from that, the film is hilarious and ravishingly beautiful.

Still from Cowards Bend the Knee (2003)

One of the characters, Dr. Fusi, observes a drop of semen under a microscope. He zooms in on it until you can see hockey players flitting around. It is the finals of the Allan Cup. “Winnipeg Maroons” forward Guy Maddin is carried off the ice, and a brawl breaks out.

Guy’s girlfriend, Veronica, tips him off that she is in the family way. Guy decides to help her and takes her to a cat-house/beauty salon for an abortion. During the operation, the sick hockey player forgets about Veronica and falls for the landlady’s stepdaughter, Meta. A bonfire of love burns between them. They go to the locker room and lie down on a pile of hockey gloves. Meanwhile, Veronica, abandoned, dies from a botched abortion.

Meta tells the hockey star that her father, the most amiable man in the world, was murdered by a criminal couple: her stepmother Liliom and Liliom’s lover Shaky, a police captain who also plays for the Maroons. During the murder her father’s hands were were cut off with wire and stained blue from hair dye. To preserve the memory of her father the devoted daughter dips his hands in a jar of formaldehyde. Meta promises to surrender to Guy only after he takes vengeance on the killers and finishes off the perfidious traitors.

But how can he do this? He hatches a cunning plot: the abortionist/hockey team doctor Fusi agrees to sever Guy’s hands and suture Meta’s fathers hands in their place.

3. “Dekalog: 4” (1989) (Poland/Germany)

DIRECTED BY:

PLOT: A Young Warsaw woman falls in love with her father in a one-room apartment and messes with his head by altering a letter.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: “In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.”

The influential poet and critic William Empson wrote in his glorious book “Seven Types of Ambiguity”: “The machinations of ambiguity are among the very roots of poetry.”2 All of the cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski is based on ambiguity, especially his “Dekalog” – a TV series of standalone dramatic films. “Dekalog #4” is the culmination of his ambiguity. What a rascal he is, what a scallywag! Who else makes such heavy, yet elegant, films. If you dislike the Poles and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, watch Krzysztof Kieslowski, and you will adore them!

“Dekalog 4” gains momentum slowly in unison with Zbigniew Preisner’s score. Father Michal and daughter Anka live together in an apartment building in the outskirts of Warsaw. She is the fourth-year student of a theater school. The mother died 22 years ago. When heading out to the airport for a business trip, the father leaves behind an envelope with an inscription, “Open after my death.” The film’s plot revolves around the secret of this letter. It is a picture about the flutter of love, full of hints and innuendoes. However, the love is intertwined with the duty governed by a strict commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother”.

Dekalog 4 (1989)

I don’t want to give away all plot twists, because they are so evocative and jaw-dropping. Kieslowski brings the viewer to the denouement, but stops a few millimeters before catharsis. Instead of the answers, we get dark speeches, a bathing Anka, and plush blankets.

2. Murmur of the Heart [Le Souffle au Coeur] (1971) (France/Italy/Germany)

DIRECTED BY: Louis Malle

PLOT: 15-year-old Laurent Chevalier, a representative of the urban nobility, is going through a difficult period, despite growing up with an affectionate and understanding mother. His coming-of-age ends in the most unpredictable way.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Permission for pleasure.

The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 18, verse 6-8 of the Old Testament states, None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord. The nakedness of your father or the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover. She is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

Yet it’s been so long since the Roman Catholic Church has burned “sinners” in the fires of the Inquisition that the audacious filmmaker Louis Malle had the balls to make a story of sin of a mother and a son. When Laurent Chevalier and his mother Clara leave for a sanatorium, they give themselves up to summer joy, on a bed far from witnesses, timidly and elegantly, as if nothing unusual. Neither he father, servants, and Laurent’s classmates catch them. Very French.

Still from Murmur of the Heart (1971)

Is it any wonder that France has been a haven for democracy, anarchy, and a handful of revolutions? Meanwhile, as the New Collector of the Russian Lands put it during a working trip to Irkutsk: “Sex, violence and terrorism must be banned on TV.”

1: Burn the Bridges [Quemar las Naves] (2007) (Mexico)

DIRECTED BY: Francisco Franco Alba

PLOT: A deadly battle between two types of affection: sodomy versus incest. Victory or death.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:  The meaning of life.

On the surface, of the plot—Sodom and Gomorrah, but from deep inside—treasures innocence. Francisco Franco plays hide-and-seek with the audience in a touching manner for a long time and, but contrary to expectations, destroys the vice like a tank crushes a cockroach.

Burn the Bridges (2007)

Two children, Elena and Sebastian, have lived with their Bohemian mother from the cradle, surrounded by toys, without knowing shame. Mom is a former pop star, who dies in an old house hailing from the time of Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori. The care of both the spacious home and their ailing mother fall on the shoulders of the older sister Elena. The younger brother, Sebastian, is an airhead who is henpecked by his sister. He falls under the influence of any strong personality. The only things he has left to do are inebriation, loitering and masturbation.

Elena is very different. Due to her mother’s severe illness she is forced to drop out of school and take the whole family on her back—including her nerdy brother, who can’t even button his own fly. And then there’s a coming-of-age arc for both of them. The sister’s care begins to overflow its banks. Elena gets Sebastian ready for school every morning, gives him a bath out of old habits, gives the maid an earful, makes an injection of painkillers for her mother, and then, when her brother gets into all sorts of trouble, tries to “pull him out of the LGBT community.” But she herself falls into the abyss of desire. Emotions run high.

  1. (Epstein, “Bonjour Cinema,” p. 104).
  2. (William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity) https://partumpoetics.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/william-empson-seven-types-of-ambiguity/

6 thoughts on “WEIRD LOVE: THE WORLD’S TOP 10 ART-HOUSE INCEST MOVIES”

  1. This is an impressively in-depth article & round-up of movies concerning this topic. I wonder, though, about the “art house” designation; surely that’s the only corner of cinema where one can get away with such an exploration?

  2. “The movie was made in distant 1993. In 2020, filmmaker’s can be imprisoned for some graphic scenes.”

    Uh… no?

    1. Probably not in Australia, though current trends in a few other countries are more foreboding.

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