ANATOMY OF HELL
The Girl (Amira Casar) meets The Guy (Rocco Siffredi) at a gay nightclub and invites him to her apartment. He refuses until she agrees to pay him, and she makes him watch her in various sexual scenarios over several nights. The intensity of her sexuality draws out of him a new self awareness about women and he becomes more than a detached observer. With tragic results.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An opening message from the filmmaker precedes the credits: "A film is an illusion, not reality-fiction or a happening; it is a true work of fiction. For the actress's most intimate scenes, a body double was used. It's not her body, it's an extension of a fictional character." Make of that what you will. It sounds like a contradictory attempt at justification for her film.
The film opens with a fellatio shot, man on man. Pounding disco music, men dancing. Kissing. The Girl's (Amira Casar) face close up. No discernible expression. Walks through dancers, upstairs to bathroom, brushing past The Boy. Sits and slowly cuts across left wrist with a razor. Blood flows. The Boy (Rocco Siffredi) walks in; "Why did you do that?" "Because I'm a woman."
Exterior, night, street. After a pit stop at a pharmacy for bandages, she pouts at him that he only went back to the toilet to get sucked, because that's what all men want. He slaps her. They walk on in sullen silence, her dress red from blood. It matches her lipstick. Stopping, he asks what she wants to do now. Slowly, only her face visible, The Girl sinks to her knees and opens his trousers to reveal his erect penis. Cut to close up his face reacting to the pleasure. Back to her face after the job's done. "I'll pay you," she says. "To find out." Close up of a puzzled Boy.
He doesn't get it. She declares that he doesn't like women. "You can look at me. I mean impartially. Watch me where I'm unwatchable." No need to touch, "just say what you see." He tells her it'll cost a lot. She agrees.
Cut to him arriving by taxi, for "The first night". Catherine Breillat's voice over provides a note on how tricked he feels and how his expectations were for something new and different, but no such luck. He slumps in an armchair in the corner of her will let bedroom in the isolated house. She begins to undress silently, a crucifix decorating the otherwise empty wall behind her.
There is a brief obtuse, philosophical discussion about female flesh - followed by a discourse on hair; underarm and pubic. The stilted dialogue is like a series of statements put in the actors' mouths by a writer (it's based on her own book) desperate to convey meaning for her visions. These statements are repeated in the extensive notes Breillat provides with the film - perhaps you got a copy with your ticket. No? Pity, it's better on paper. For one thing, reading it we wouldn't be confused by The Girl asking The Boy whether she should have shaved her armpits, only to see a couple of shots later that her armpits are indeed shaved.
Breillat is clearly grappling with something fundamentally fascinating about the nature of male/female love/hate differences. She can't quite capture her philosophy through her images, though, relying on stock postures, the power of female nudity (which she seems to love and hate herself) and the dynamic of the picture frame.
As The First Night wears on (there are several), Breillat's screenplay draws a cinematic line, via what appears to be a flashback, between The Girl's pubic hair (held in close up) and The Boy as a kid taking a newly hatched chick from its nest - after feeding it a worm - and stomping it to a bloody little pulp. With the aid of her voice over, we gather the connection made is somehow inevitable.
It's at this point that Breillat tries to articulate the core premise of Hell. She narrates: "I was learning what I knew but refused to hear: that the body of women calls for mutilation." This is said over a slow pan as The Girl fingers her vagina. "And yet no part of it is excessive. Men rant against something that's invisible." Still struggling to find meaning in all this, we continue to bounce from voyeuristic, manipulative (even dishonest, oddly for a filmmaker so earnest) sex scenes to nihilistic introspection. Her (written) philosophising about women's menstrual blood being somehow Christlike brings us a shot of the crucifix panning to The Boy seeing The Girl's blood on his fingers. The Girl sleeps through this and some other episodes of penetration, as if to say 'I don't feel a thing'. This would be totally at odds with what the Breillat message is supposed to be, I would have thought, but she confirms it later in a tampon moment.
When The Girl complains that the reason men have tried to restrict and constrain women every way and everywhere, she says in reality, it's because men fear that women don't belong to them. And they fear menstrual blood, "blood that flows without the need for a wound." She pushes this theme to its limits with scenes intended to shock; scenes of sexual intercourse which contradict conventions even of explicit filmmaking. It's not a bad thing for filmmakers to shock us, as long as it's shocking us into a realisation of a truth. Otherwise it's just a hollow device.
As filmmaking, this is often tedious polemic and as a tract on the female ying/yang, it's a bleak, inaccessible (sexually graphic) maze filled with what appears to be a loathing of female sexuality. Probably not what is intended. It can't be taken literally, but neither is it allegorical. It's Breillat's personal Rubic's cube of her own book.
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ANATOMY OF HELL (R)
(Anatomie De L'Enfer)
CAST: Amira Casar, Rocco Siffredi, Alexandre Belin, Manuel Taglang, Jacques Monge, Claudio Carvalho
PRODUCER: Jean-François Lepetit
DIRECTOR: Catherine Breillat
SCRIPT: Catherine Breillat (based on her own novel, Pornocratie)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorgos Arvanitis, Guillaume Schiffman
EDITOR: Pascale Chavance
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean-Marie Milon, Pedro Sá Santos
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 1, 2004