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A dense film that cuts up footage of a primary plot of two young Yugoslavian girls, one a politico and the other a sexpot, and an affair with a visiting Russian skater. Mixing metaphors of Russia's relationship with Yugoslavia, intercut with footage and interviews with Wilhelm Reich and Al Goldstein of Screw magazine. The film applies Reich's theories of Orgone energy and analogies of Stalinism as a form of Freudian sexual repression. Also known as W.R. The Mysteries of the Organism in English subtitled version. Was banned in Yugoslavia shortly after it was made. Written by
Malcolm Humes <email@example.com>
an anarchic art-film with communists, sex, plaster-caster genitals, Stalin, gays, ice skaters, and mental patients all rolled into one
WR is not exactly a full-blown "perfect film". It is, without a doubt, one of the most in-your-face forms of personal, artistic and political expression put out in the period. Only Godard can be compared for something as demanding and daring as W.R., but even then there could be compromises due to his penchant for drawing out the facet of the cinematic essay. Writer/director Dusan Makavejev goes fearlessly into making a hybrid of documentary and fiction, where one sees a truly raw form take place in how he places his camera on subjects and on locales, and an attitude of recklessness in how he edits together the fictional segments (a free-love inspired communist Yugoslavian meets a more uptight male ice skater and fall somewhat in a kind of love surrounded by semantics) with archival footage and the documentary.
It's this same reckless quality and adherence only to throw out any typical narrative that makes W.R such a crazy milestone in the avant-garde (which, by the way, Makavejev says is only relative to other films). He could have just made a serious work about the writer/sex therapist Wilhelm Reich, or a romantic drama about two differing sides of the personifications of communist ideas played out, but he's discontent with making either or and does both, and more. It's a film of its time, but not trapped in it.
One of the best things that also comes out right away from W.R. is that it is, in the tradition of another cinematic anarchist like Godard, a full-blown satire. This is essential because without this spirit of mocking and criticizing the very things that Makavejev is praising (i.e. Leninist and Stalinist propaganda footage is inter-cut with footage from what must be committed folk at an asylum getting electroshock and knocking heads against the wall), the film would very quickly become preachy and didactic, and might have actually been more-so accepted by the Yugoslav censors.
It's the very act of humor about it all, of having sex as if in a kaleidoscope put to dry narration, or the crazy bearded guy with a helmet carrying around a gun and sometimes giving it a 'good time, or how some weird drunken neighbor literally crashes through the wall of the communist girl's apartment while he and the ice skater talk politics and her (very naked) friend does leg exercises, that makes it on the surface seem so outrageous.
And believe-you-me, it didn't get the "Luis Bunuel award" at Cannes for nothing! Going between a gay guy telling about his prime sexual experiences to seeing women and men in the throws of Reich's 'method' of releasing pent up tensions (this may be the only repetitive portion of the film, not s shocking to anyone who's seen any given episode of HBO's Real Sex, albeit for the period it's quite absorbing), and then back to Reich's theories that were crushed and burned as he died in a prison, and then back again to the Yugoslav 'love' story that ends with a few image that Jodorowsky might wince at.
And as this is all going on, Makavejev doesn't let the audience stop thinking, either. Behind a sequence like when Milena riles up the men in the building complex to have a free and healthy attitude towards communism is some truth, contained within what is obviously a parody of communist propaganda films are points that the viewer has to take into account, or at least to fill in some blanks as the film goes forward.
The lack of structure then, in a sense, is structured as such, and it becomes an act of participation to guess what might come next, of what might be either informative- like the history of Reich as writer and controversial figure, almost by bad luck, or about the delirious technique of the 'box' used by Reich on his patients- or entertaining, in ways that only a provocateur can handle. Now, take this as a fact, know what you're getting into before you seek out the Criterion DVD. It's quite a graphic film in terms of showing full on sex, aroused genitalia, and sometimes not in always the playful manner intended. But it's not simply that to look out for, though even by today's standards it's a bit surprising.
What makes W.R. such a unique and warped bird of art is how it challenges the viewer, provokes fully if not discussion then some kind of collision of intellectual and visceral reaction for those who at least meet the filmmaker halfway. Once in a while frustrating, but never ever boring, W.R. is a cinematic shock from a go-for-broke iconoclast.
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