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Review: Psychopathia Sexualis

Psychopathia Sexualis

Everything you ever wanted to know about sexual perversity but were afraid to ask is on anemic display in Bret Wood’s new film, which adapts case studies from Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psyopathia Sexualis for the screen without profound connective tissue. Wood uses a modicum of angles and materials to convey the horror of sexuality gripped in terror during the tail-end of the 19th century. His images are triumphs of production design under shoestring budgetary duress, evoking (at best) Goreyesque tarot cards and (at worst) the stilted, lamely acted cut scenes from retro-styled PC games like The Seventh Guest. The film’s vignettes are shrewdly framed, but their visual textures and shared synchronicity is off, and the feeling they exude is all wrong. Wood employs Photoshop-style effects to imitate a sense of oldness and keyhole voyeurism, as if we were staring into the abyss of a 100-year-old passageway, except the video image’s brightness works against the film. A single frame from Hole’s “Violet” and Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer” videos conveys a stronger sense of unarticulated sexuality than Wood’s aloof aesthetic; it’s not the film’s turn-of-the-century society that does the suffocating here so much as the director’s disjointed, meticulously critical gaze. Wood’s mistake is shooting without passion, thinking that alone is enough to suggest the cruel sway of patriarchal society. (Has he not seen Terence Davies’s The House of Mirth?) The film is short on point, confirmed when a girl asks for the moral of one tale and the storyteller responds, “Moral? There’s no moral, dearie. It’s just a story.”

Cast: Jane Bass, Bryan Davis, Veronika Duerr, Sandra L. Hughes, Ted Manson, Daniel May, Rob Nixton, Lisa Paulsen, Daniel Pettrow, Rachel Sorsa, Jerilynn Bedingfield, John Jaramillo, Greg Thompson, Shelby Hofer, Steve Warren Director: Bret Wood Screenwriter: Bret Wood Distributor: Kino International Running Time: 98 min Rating: NR Year: 2006 Buy: Video

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