Anatomy Of Hell

"Terrible"

Anatomy Of Hell Review


It's almost never fair to reduce a film, even a very bad film, to one single image or scene - out of context, almost anything can unfairly seem offensive, moronic, or just plain clueless. However, in the new Catherine Breillat provocation, Anatomy of Hell, you can fairly easily isolate one scene as being emblematic of the whole piece: The character known only as "the man" enters the room where he's been spending a whole lot of time staring at "the woman," takes a look at her naked body, slowly inserts the handle end of a hoe-like garden implement into her vagina and then walks off screen, leaving it there sticking out from her body. They both watch. In a better film, this could have been played as an act of extreme sexual obsession, the work of a near-psychopath, or just a bored boyfriend looking for new kink. In Breillat's clumsy hands, however, it just looks like desperation; having stuck her two nameless actors in a four-night-long battle between the sexes, Breillat seems at a loss for some other way to violate her actress. So, to the garden shed he goes.

Anatomy of Hell starts off just dandy in a gay nightclub where the techno is thudding as we see "the woman" (Amira Casar) watching her boyfriend make out with some guy. She goes to the bathroom and slits her wrists, only to have "the man" (porn star Rocco Siffredi) walk in on her. He hauls her off to the doctor to get stitched up, they have a nice, tense walk, and after going down on him, she says she'll pay him to come watch her: "Watch me where I'm unwatchable." It's all rather dark and disconnected, but there's an insistent, punishing quality to these early scenes that highlight writer/director Breillat's abilities as a filmmaker. She has a slithery way with the camera - especially in a scene shot from above where Casar sidles across the nightclub dancefloor, grabbing hands and shouldering past the dancing men with a liquid malevolence - which should have made this a more enthralling film. As it stands, though, Breillat lets her talents as a sensual visualist go to waste in the name of sheer agitprop of the dullest kind.

Once you get past the rather opaque desire of the woman to have the man watch her for four nights, the body of the film boils down to the two of them, a mostly bare bedroom in a decaying house on a stormy ocean cliffside, reams upon reams of proto-feminist speechifying from her, and lots of blood. The camera pokes and prods at Casar's body as she lays herself out for display, doing its best to provoke a reaction from the audience. The man is strangely malleable to her words, the bulk of which are gnomic utterances along the lines of "the body of women calls for mutilation," "still you know nothing about women" and a long soliloquy on the patriarchal oppression of Tampax. Somehow, all this wooly-headed discourse - like getting slapped in the head by an especially badly-written Intro to Women's Studies textbook - gets to the man, who is both attracted and repulsed by her sacrificial masochism (Breillat even throws in a shot of a crucifix in case we miss the point), to the point where he gladly drinks her menstrual blood. Worse than using the woman as a font of faux profundity, though, is the film's view of the man, who is shown as being gay essentially because he's afraid of women (as all men are, according to the woman), which is where the film moves from being merely acting stupid to propagating offensive clichés.

Anatomy of Hell tries, in its egghead French way, to get at something crucial: the root of the twinned fear and desire that's behind male violence against women. It wants to ask, in all the references to veils and the Old Testament, what exactly is it that so many men, especially of a religious disposition, are afraid of? Unfortunately, using a garden implement in that manner doesn't really get us any closer to the answer that Breillat, and many others, want.

Aka Anatomie de l'enfer.

Thank you for shaving.



Anatomy Of Hell

Facts and Figures

Run time: 77 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 28th January 2004

Distributed by: Tartan Films

Production compaines: TLA Releasing, Canal Plus, CB Films, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Flach Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 26%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 26

IMDB: 4.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Jean-François Lepetit

Starring: as Femme, as Homme, Jacques Monge as Mann in Bar, as Erzählerin

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