ANATOMY OF HELL
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2004 David N. Butterworth
*1/2 (out of ****)
Whether it's a porn film masquerading as Art or an Art film masquerading
as porn, one thing's perfectly clear about the new French film "Anatomie de
L'Enfer" ("Anatomy of Hell"). It's hell. And I don't just mean anatomically
Sitting through this pretentious testament to bodily fluids for an interminable
80 minutes you have plenty of time to try and figure out what controversial
writer/director Catherine Breillat ("Fat Girl") was attempting (when you're
not perusing the tantalizing offer for a Heide beach towel on the back of your
box of Jujubes, that is). Is it a serious sociological investigation into what
makes gay men gay? Is it a graphic two-character study of a sexual, sadomasochistic
relationship that's bound to end in tears? Or is it "a daring exploration into
the nature of a fundamentally social and religious taboo: sexuality" according
to the film's publicity department?
All I can think of is that Breillat thought it was about time Italian porn
star Rocco Siffredi appeared in a movie without the words "Rocco Siffredi" and
"butt" in the title.
As it turns out, Siffredi is surprisingly decent in the film (relatively
speaking). From an acting standpoint he's called upon to look furtive and intense
and serious and perplexed and noncommittal and inquisitive and smoldering and
this he does with hardly a slip-up. And then there are the physical requirements
of the role that conspire to show off his endowment (his French is halfway decent
Siffredi plays "the man" into whom "the woman" (classical beauty Amira
Casar) literally bumps during the film's opening scene. We're in a gay nightclub
(shades of Gaspar Noé's "Irréversible") and the straight woman has just slit
her wrists. "Why did you do that?" inquires Siffredi, who rushes into the bathroom
to save her. "Because I'm a woman," explains Casar. That deep revelation outspoken
she offers to pay him to observe her as part of a theory that dictates that
all men, whether they be gay or straight, are misogynists who abhor the female
form in its purest state. Riiiiight.
What follows is a four-night "erotic odyssey" in which Casar lounges around
naked on a bed like an artist's model while Siffredi does the observing. Sometimes
he takes a hands-off approach, seated and sipping on Jack Daniel's over ice
while responding to her obtuse, intellectual (read: idiotic) comments with obtuse,
intellectual (read: idiotic) comments of his own--there's a line about how a
frog feels to be green that made me bust out laughing and startle my fellow
audience member awake. And sometimes said observing is a little more interactive,
occasionally utilizing such props as a lipstick, a garden rake, and cocktails-for-two
(a menstrual Bloody Mary one might call it).
What's apparent throughout much of this, if nothing else (and there really
*is* nothing else), is that the woman is a *very* heavy sleeper.
The language and sexual situations are clearly designed to shock, perhaps
offend, but they're mostly laughable. Interestingly enough, the film makes
an initial disclaimer that a body double is used for Casar's "most intimate
scenes" and that this should be viewed as an extension of her character. I
suspect that Casar simply didn't want Breillat sticking her camera "down there."
The South Koreans did the best thing to "Anatomie de L'Enfer." They banned
David N. Butterworth
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