Anatomy of Hell
Maria João Santos
Running Time: 77 minutes
US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: 18
As a male pornstar, Rocco ‘The Ass Collector’ Siffredi has been required to ‘keep wood’ in some unimaginably abject scenarios, but it was in Catherine Breillat’s sexually explicit but non-pornographic film ‘Romance’ (1999) that he was faced with his greatest challenge as a skin artist: having to remain fully and visibly erect throughout a long, sex-free sequence in which the film’s female protagonist delivers an unendurably tedious diatribe on sexuality at him. It was a strange, and strangely funny, episode in which the normally irreconcilable worlds of porn and feminism were made to collide head-on – and now Breillat tries to recreate something of this effect in her latest film ‘Anatomy of Hell’, adapted from her novel ‘Pornocratie’. Once again the film features Siffredi, once again it focusses on the state of relations between women and men, and once again it sets out to shock the bourgeoisie with its assault on the limits of what is normally acceptable in a mainstream film. All of which would be fine, were it not for the film’s teeth-grating pretentiousness and its absurd positions on gender.
Feeling ignored and redundant on the dancefloor of a gay men’s nightclub, the beautiful Girl (Amira Casar) goes to the toilets to slit her wrists “because”, as she explains, “I’m a woman”. When her suicide attempt is interrupted by the homosexual Guy (Rocco Siffredi), the Girl makes an unusual proposal to him (after fellating him on the street): she will pay him to explore the hidden parts of her body. Over the next four nights, in a pillared house on a clifftop overlooking the ocean, the Guy becomes a reluctant initiate in the mysteries of the Girl’s vagina as he is forced to confront that which he despises, viewing her up close and personal, prodding, sniffing, tasting and poking her, and even using her engorged tampon as a teabag (encouraged by her question “don’t we drink the blood of our enemies?”). His initial disgust slowly turns to desire until he realises – too late – that there has always been a gaping hole in his misogynistic worldview.
It is impossible to regard Breillat’s characters as anything like real people – no-one, not even from within the most self-indulgent departments of French academia, spouts humbug as emptily portentous as the dialogue of these two. No matter, for they are in fact, as Breillat herself has confirmed in numerous interviews, intended rather to be mythical, allegorical figures – a sort of Everygirl and Everyguy whose assignation dramatises no less than the eternal conflict between the sexes. Except that if this is to be taken at all seriously, the film would seem to be advancing a whole series of patently untenable propositions – e.g. that all men hate women and are disgusted by women’s sexual organs, that male homosexuality is merely an extreme form of misogyny, and that gays could be ‘cured’ of their condition by attending a four-night course of lectures (with accompanying practical exercises) designed to demystify the vulva and open up its innermost secrets. Wrong, wrong, wrong – so much so as to make the gender politics of ‘Anatomy of Hell’ a ludicrous irrelevance, with less to reveal about the real status of men and women than, say, Star Wars.
The acting is fine (and Siffredi is less wooden than his attributes might suggest), some of the photography (especially of the house and its environs) is suffused with a lyrical beauty, and the sparse soundtrack of almost imperceptible electronic hums lends the film an abstract minimalism – but unfortunately the Girl’s invitation “to watch me where I’m unwatchable” serves as an all too appropriate introduction to a hellishly dull attempt at provocation that succeeds only in being annoying. And unlike the Guy, the viewer does not even have the consolation of being paid to watch.
It's Got: The line "Frogs at least have the decency of being green, but their thighs symbolically can be spread as wide as yours" (and many other lines just like it).
It Needs: A film which claims that men have never understood who women are ought not then to reduce women to their sexual organs, and ought to show a better understanding of who men are - it may come as a surprise to Catherine Breillat, but homosexuality and misogyny are distinguishable phenomena, not all men hate women, and some men really like vaginas...
Alternatives:Baise Moi, Dans Ma Peau, Romance, Trouble Every Day
Vagina dialogue this may be, but it seems much more like a bunch of arse.