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A Song of Love (1950)
"Un chant d'amour" (original title)

 -  Short | Fantasy | Romance  -  1975 (France)
7.5
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 1,523 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 23 critic

Two prisoners in complete isolation, separated by the thick brick walls, and desperately in need of human contact, devise a most unusual kind of communication.

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Cast

Credited cast:
André Reybaz ...
Guard.
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Storyline

Inmates in a French prison are attempting to fulfill their sexual and emotional needs under the confines of their individual cells. Two inmates in particular, who are in adjacent cells, try to make that connection to the other, both physical and emotional, in whatever way they can. In their current attempt to do so, they are so caught up in the fulfillment they receive of that connection that they fail to notice that a voyeuristic guard has been watching them through the small peep holes in their otherwise solid cell doors. The guard was tipped to the activity by one of the two men trying to pass a bouquet of wild flowers to the other via their barred cell windows. The guard confronts one of the inmates. Although their encounter is primarily violently physical, each man copes with the situation by fantasizing about what is truly in his heart. Written by Huggo

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Short | Fantasy | Romance

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1975 (France)  »

Also Known As:

A Song of Love  »

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1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Originally made for distribution as limited edition prints for private collectors, Jean Genet resisted its cinema release in the 1970s. See more »

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Referenced in The Hole (1998) See more »

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User Reviews

A fascinating and disturbing work of expressive, experimental cinema
15 August 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Setting something of a benchmark in eroticism, and, in particular, prison-based eroticism - something that would later carry through to everything from 70's exploitation cinema to the work of Todd Haynes - Un chant d'amour (1950) remains the sole cinematic work of poet and dramatist Jean Genet. As with his writing in works such as Our Lady of the Flowers and The Thief's Journal, Un chant d'amour basks in the romanticised fantasy of lurid, low-rent subject matter; taking themes and ideas that were (and probably still remain for some viewers) incredibly controversial and approaching them from an unexpected angle, to find poetry in even the most callous of violence, or beauty in the ugliness of human behaviour. As you would expect from Genet's writing, the film is essentially a poetic-abstraction, relinquishing ideas of narrative and character to create a tone that is stylised and somewhat subjective; with the use of close ups and slow motion in particular creating a world that is part evocative, homoerotic fantasia and part metaphor for human existence.

In the film, the hellish environment of the prison becomes a hotbed for repressed sexuality and complex emotions, as both inmates and guard submit to their feelings of lust (often attached to the ideas of power and domination) that finds an escape in a surreal, claustrophobic nightmare that is punctuated by a scene of pastoral reminisce. Beyond this bold, expressive presentation, the film is also notable for its striking black and white cinematography by artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau; so as well as being fairly daring in terms of content, it is also something of an influential work in a purely visual sense. For one, you can see the influence on a filmmaker like David Lynch, whose films Eraserhead (1976) and The Elephant Man (1980) in particular draw heavily on the influence of Cocteau's own short films, The Blood of the Poet (193?) and The Testament of Orpheus (1950), both of which share a similar look and feeling to Genet's film in question. You can also see certain thematic influences on the work of R. W. Fassbinder, whose dream project, an adaptation of Genet's Querelle de Brest (1982), would be the acclaimed German filmmaker's final film prior to his death at the age of 37.

Above all, the film should be seen as a metaphor for the nature of unrequited love in general, and not simply as a work of homoerotic fantasy. The themes of the film are universal, dealing with confinement, longing, despair, desperation and eventually escape. Genet would return to a number of these same themes with his later work, Prisoner of Love, but the visual expression of these ideas as presented in Un chant d'amour is really quite special. Yes, the film is still somewhat sexually explicit, even after fifty 50+ years on release, with the depiction of homosexual sex, abuse and expression really pushing the boundaries in terms of male, physical presentation. Regardless, it remains a truly fascinating work, both poetic and disturbing in equal measures and certainly worth experiencing for fans of both Cocteau and Genet.


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