Catherine Breillat, who chillingly laid bare the sexual politics of erotic nonchalance in the divisive but celebrated Fat Girl, now stares down the utter arbitrariness of carnal disgust with Anatomy of Hell. Not surprisingly, the film’s appeal has proven to be limited and cagey. Look no further than John Waters, who provided the film with one of his characteristically bemused-unto-tasteless blurbs, calling it “the most politically incorrect movie I’ve ever seen in my life, so I have to respect that,” and then doing exactly the opposite by denying it a slot in his year-end top 10 list in Artforum (which, in years past, has found room at the top for the far more opportunistic, far more willful nihilism of Gaspar Noé‘s Irréversible). Clearly, the gay male contingent of Breillat’s audience found themselves recoiling from the fundamental gist of her scenario (taken from her own novel, Pornocratie—which sounds to my non-French-speaking ears like a compound of the words “pornograpic” and “autocracy”—and retold with such a suffocating sense of introspection as to require Breillat voicing over the thoughts of both the male and female): A straight Woman (Amira Casar and her body double) cruises a gay dance club, theatrically slices her wrists to entice the hunkiest reveler (He: “Why did you do that?” She: “Because I’m a woman.”), and takes advantage of his concern by offering to pay him handsomely if he’ll agree to come to her sparsely-appointed chateau to, as she puts it, “watch me where I’m unwatchable.” Meaning: to look at her bush, paint it with lipstick, watch her insert a tampon to prove the total lack of eroticism women associate with the act of insertion (though she moans with pleasure at the sensation of the cardboard tube), fit her vagina for garden equipment, and eventually learn the ruinous and deflective effects of his latent gynophobia. Breillat, ever the provocateur, grabs the gay males in the crowd (who she is obviously more than casually interested in addressing, what with the cock-sucking of the opening shot) by the nape of their necks and has them pinned to a paradox. No other demographic makes more light of the vagina (one suggested alternate title: 10 Things I Hate About Your Vagina) and yet, she demands, empathy be damned, no other group knows less about the orfice. (It’s hardly surprising that Siffredi’s first reaction upon Casar’s first disrobing is outrage, even despite the fact that he was hired to comment dispassionately: “Why do you exhibit yourself this way? The fragility of female flesh inspires disgust or brutality.”) The ultimate lesson being taught isn’t how homosexuality can be transposed to kinky hetero sex games (though Rocco Siffredi’s cock-of-the-walk reluctant hustler learns how to do more than just drink foreign fluids), but how all forms of sexuality are rendered devoid of eroticism through their lack of proper context.
Though almost no one noticed amid the train-wreck politics, Anatomy of Hell was perhaps one of the most carefully and gorgeously lensed films of last year. Each shot within Casar's gray-upon-beige boudoir is a perfectly balanced play of light against shadow, creamy flesh against brass and plaster. Tartan Video's transfer preserves the look extremely well, with almost no edge enhancement. Blacks are solid, and Rocco's solid erections are, um, accurate. There are no less than three audio options (all in French): 5.1 Dolby surround, 2.0 stereo, and, apparently to give some extra heft to the skeezy house music that opens and closes the film, 5.1 DTS. They all sound fine, and each queef will sound like it's emanating from right beside you!
Upon exiting a theatrical viewing of Anatomy of Hell, the queen I was with dismissively quipped: "Catherine just likes to hear herself talk." Just in case she's not alone, Tartan has included a hefty hour-and-change video interview with Breillat, discussing the film and all the (many many many) misconceptions about its message and its details. (For the record, she'd disagree with my charge that the film is about the deflection of eroticism in favor of the humor of gynecological illiteracy-she doesn't even see Rocco's "Man" as being a homosexual, since the metaphorical intent of her sparse scenario leads her to conclude that "it's not a sociological film, it's anterior, at the origin of the world.") It runs almost as long as the film itself, and is full of insight. Also, if it was indeed shot in her own home, it reveals that the emphasis on creams and off-whites and other various sperm-colors in Anatomy's color palate wasn't just a stylistic choice. The woman is literally swimming in beige. Also included are a bunch of Tartan trailers and a photo gallery (with all the pictures obscured by graphic plaster effects).
More than you ever wanted to know about the vagina, which isn't good enough for Catherine Breillat.