While he was in jail, she would send him food, new underwear, and recordings of her voice to sweeten him up. She had been released sooner and was willing to wait 10 years for his return. They had one dream together: having a house in the countryside, perhaps with a veranda, from where they could stare at the horizon, surrounded by dogs, and await old age. This fantasy of deferred bliss may recall sentimental fare like Up, but The Mouth of the Wolf is Jean Genet meets Pedro Costa. She’s a recovering heroin addict transsexual rocking a non-passable female voice and a no-nonsense attitude. He’s an irresistible hyper-masculine brute a la Our Lady of the Flowers. It’s meant to be.
Blurring the lines between documentary and fiction like an essay film whose “I” is never really the filmmaker’s, and splitting sound from its normatively tautological relationship to image, Pietro Marcello weaves the love story between Enzo (Vincenzo Motta) and Mary (Mary Monaco) with stylistic ingenuity and masterful emotional restraint. We experience the delay of the fantasy of the happy old couple in their country home in cinematic time as, for most of the film, the only body these lovers have is the spellbinding combination of visual fragments serving as apparitions to their voices. Which is haunting which? It isn’t until the very end that we’re allowed to see Enzo and Mary in the same frame offering some kind of direct account of their story. Until then, we hear poetic epistolary exchanges and see a lot of old industrial footage of implosions, explosions, debris. Structures going up and coming down. It’s a stream-of-consciousness collage of memories: nightclub neon signs, men in trench coats, gun shots, and young people dancing the twist. Chris Marker territory, but here the ideas are firmly anchored in specific characters who become more fleshly as the storytelling patchwork unfolds. A colored photograph of a heavily made-up woman may follow grainy sepia film of a girl staring in the mirror, which may follow our rugged mustachioed Enzo in all his virility inhabiting the film’s present tense, getting rowdy at a bar.
The film is very much a contemplation of the split, or non-split, between masculine and feminine, imprisonment and freedom, lover and lover. Their seemingly oppositional “nature” proves to be a matter of performance, not intent, as one is always confounded with the other. This becomes clear in the extraordinary final scene, when Enzo and Mary address us directly. They cherish moments of their coupledom in prison as much more idyllic than anything they could experience outside it. Enzo claims that both of them are dominants in their own way—he through violence, she through outright fierceness. The tough thug is, finally, just a needy boy for whom love, which is always maternal, isn’t a given. He has to seduce her every time, like a kid begging for Mommy’s recognition and promptly wallowing in embarrassment when he gets it. The audience watches Enzo, whom, we have learned, cries watching Bambi and has “the sweetness of a child in the body of a giant,” looking downward in infantile awkwardness as Mary sings his praises: his body was spectacular, his strength was the law, and his sweetness did her in. It’s beautiful, it’s incestuous, it’s familiar. And we watch roughness and frailty become the same mottled and binding thing. There are echoes of João Pedro Rodrigues’s To Die Like a Man in this relationship, with a less brutal symbiosis between the older transsexual and the hot straight man. It takes very little for Enzo’s masculinity to be sold as legitimate, a certain sentence or a certain swagger. Mary’s femininity also requires very little external manifestation, an ill-fitting black wig or a tiny accouterment. It turns out all is trompe l’oeil.
Pietro Marcello’s The Mouth of the Wolf will play from August 4 – 10 at MoMA. For more information, click here.