Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Anatomy Of Hell (Anatomie de L'enfer)

Anatomy of Hell. Directed & Written by Catherine Breillat.

Preconceptions: Well I've had quite enough of disappointing horror and summer blockbusters and so I decided to turn my attention to another one in Breillat's filmography (you'll remember her from my ridiculously gushy reviews of Sex is Comedy and Bluebeard). I'd been putting this one off for a while strictly due to this description on Netflix: "Catherine Breillat explores female sexuality and men's darkest fears about women's sexual power in this startlingly explicit and clinical film." It sounded a little on the hard edged side for my tastes, but she's proven me utterly wrong about Sex is Comedy (an unusually good movie about being a director) so I thought it was entirely possible that I'd dig this as well.

General Review: Before we get started, I want to be utterly, entirely, irreproachably clear: this movie is graphic. There are scenes that deal with the human body in gynecological/andrological (ooh I learned a new word) detail. I don't want to give any of the specifics away, because it'll ruin the punch, but seriously, if you're not comfy with up close and personal, mostly un-erotic examinations of people's bits, do not watch Anatomy of Hell. If you even think you're going to be bugged, I do so warn you to check out one of Breillat's softer films out.

Now that I've finished my seven million word disclaimer, let me describe the plot. A woman (Amira Casar) is turned down by a guy at a gay bar, for some reason this throws her enough to attempt suicide (not up for the Stable Personality of the Year Award). Another gay man (Rocco Siffredi) discovers her and takes her to get patched up. She then offers to pay him to "watch her while she can't watch herself" for four nights (an odd form of prostitution). Eventually, they have sex and a number of hammy philosophical discussions about gender issues.

I've been blown away by Breillat's other offerings, but I gotta say I was left feeling bugged by this. It had a lot of her signature moves (which I still loved): the over-bright colours, dreamy camera work and her ability to give harsh reality a fairy tale quality (I'd love to see her do a short film based on Charles de Lint, come to think of it). And it wasn't the stark, graphic portrayal of the human body (and bodily functions) that got under my skin (though there was a lot of that, sometimes almost laughably explicit). No, it was the themes that bothered me. The major bone that she was hacking at in this was masculine fear of female sexual power, something I can usually get excited about (though not usually something I'll wax on about in blog format). But her way of showing it was by insinuating that gay men are only gay because they fear female sexuality. Now, if this had been a period piece about Freudian psychology, that'd be one thing, but we're meant to buy this as viable in a modern setting. I just couldn't follow her there. While I've noticed the "all men act this way" dialogue in her previous movies, I've always accepted it because it's being said by unreliable and hypocritical characters. In Anatomy of Hell Casar doesn't exactly play a character, more of a stand in for scary womanhood, to hear her saying these things was difficult to swallow.

While trying to hash out my feelings about Anatomy of Hell, I naturally chatted with Doomwench (who else?). It sparked an interesting conversation about equality and how we're disturbed by certain feminist literature (and films) dehumanizing men. It's very possible that this was a conversation this flick was meant to pull out of us. That and stab in the gut outrage at the idea that gay guys are just scared of chicks. Since Breillat might very well be too smart for me, I did a bit of reading regarding her intentions for the movie. She said that she was just looking for a way to show a type of man who was disinterested in women. Reading that, I can't help but feel that choosing a gay man muddied the issue so badly that this was a misstep. There are plenty of straight guys who are disinterested in the company of women. Again to go back to something period piece-y (and I do love them), one of the confirmed (not gay) bachelors in English Men's Clubs (ala the Pygmalion/My Fair Lady) would have worked.

I realise that I've spent an awful lot of time pondering Anatomy of Hell and not a lot of time discussing the mechanics the way I usually do, but I simply couldn't get past the issues it has had banging around in my head. Now, onto the mechanics. As I mentioned earlier, it was as beautiful as any of her other movies. The sweeping (but not sickening) camera was very much present (and awesome), as was the vivid use of colour and contrast. I'm a bit limited by the naked content of the movie as to the pictures I can share with you (while we aren't entirely work safe, I do try and keep nipples and groin to a minimum), so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The dialogue was clunky at points (some of those philosophical discussions were too stilted even in her abstracted setting), but the long silences were utterly without awkwardness. You could feel the bond between the characters much better when they weren't talking. Partial credit obviously goes to the actors, but so much of it came across in the way the scenes were shot.

As I did my unusual (for me) research into the movie, I discovered that Casar was not entirely comfortable with all the up close nudity and sex. I never would have guessed it from watching. She came across as a confident (if chaotic), powerful figure. Her presence and looks put me in mind of a Lilith-type character and I couldn't stop thinking about Tanith Lee stories about demonic women. Siffredi, as it turns out, is mostly in pornography (ha-ha! something called More Sluts in Ibiza and Rocco Meats Prague) but you wouldn't know it from his performance (unless French porn has a ridiculously good class of actor). He's intense, troubled and penetrating (ha-ha again) in a way a lot of Hollywood actors fall ridiculously short of achieving.

All in all, I'm afraid that despite its good points, Anatomy of Hell is really Breillat's Inception. Do I still love her (and Nolan's) directing? Yes, of course I do. She's amazing, her work is beautiful to watch and teases my brain into interesting lines of thought. I could write a review of her work every week and have new things to talk about. But this was just too flawed. She assumed the audience would agree with (or at least be willing to accept) things as fact that I just couldn't swallow (not for all the fanciful camera work and rich colours in the world). While the clinically close look at the body didn't bother me, there were times where we were forced to look so closely that I was left with a sense of ridiculousness rather than disgust or discomfort. I don't think it was meant to be particularly silly. If you're strictly interested in seeing it because it's controversial or because you love her directing, go for it. However, if you just want to check out some of Breillat's work, look at Bluebeard instead. It has all of the skill and none of the failings.

No comments:

Post a Comment