Saturday, August 20, 2005

Anatomy of Hell (Breillat, 2004)

Anatomy of Hell kind of reminded me of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit. No Exit painted a portrait of hell that didn’t involve demons or flames, but rather the hell of spending an eternity with the people most likely to drive you to madness. On one level, there’s no getting around the fact that the gates of hell in Breillat’s film are the labia minora and majora. The gynecological detail of the film’s most extreme scenes are probably enough to put most people out of the mood for reading metaphor. But on another level, the hell Breillat creates is the sensation of being forced to confront and analyze that which we consider unwatchable. To what end? Well, it seems to me that Breillat is making a direct connection between the disgust and repulsion men feel towards the normal functions of the vagina and the long history of violence and suppression women have been forced to endure. The film certainly has its faults. Certain events that could conceivably have had symbolic power in a novel border on unintentional absurdity when depicted literally on film. It’s also much too self-serious and, at times, fairly unpleasant to sit through. But it must be said that it is also a well-made film, featuring a surprisingly effective, sensitive performance from Rocco Siffredi – a man whose other film credits include Ejacula 2, Captain Organ and Buttman and Rocco’s Brazilian Butt Fest. I don’t know who else would be willing to sit through Anatomy of Hell – indeed I would not attempt to recommend it to anyone – but I offer these thoughts for the curious, and because most other reviews will simply boil down to a list of the film’ more outrageous shocks. Breillat’s films are extreme, but she is no charlatan. This recent entry into her filmography is another compelling analysis of the disturbing interconnectedness of sex and violence, as well as the misunderstanding and mistrust than exists between men and women.