Anatomy of Hell

Un film de Catherine Breillat

The last film I saw at The Roxy in Philadelphia was Vincent Gallo's brilliantly sublime Brown Bunny. That film ended with a much bally-hooed UNsimulated full-on blow-job. My next visit to The Roxy was for French provocatrix Catherine Breillat's (Fat Girl, Romance) latest taste of psycho-sexual existential horror. This film opens with (yet another) real-life non-faked oral exam. This one may not go as far or as long (no pun intended...okay, maybe it was intended), but the rest of Breillat's rather short (only about an hour and fifteen minutes) film makes up for this lack of opening length. With everything from applying lipstick to a sleeping woman's asshole and pussy, to drinking a used tampon soaked glass of red water (which also may have been unsimulated), to doing some rather nasty things with rusty garden tools, Anatomy of Hell plays as both a psychological experiment in some sort of latent Freudian-nightmare world and as a parable of Adam & Eve, during their last few nights in Paradise - as well as that dreaded day after. This film will stand along side Natural Born Killers and Dancer in the Dark as films with no middle ground - either hated or loved (both with great passion).

Breillat starts out at a gay disco (just after the aforementioned shortened blow-job in the side-alley), where a man rescues a woman who has just matter-of-factly slit open her wrist with a razor blade.   After a brief stop-over at a clinic, to get bandaged-up and another blow-job (this time we only see the raection shot - but we do get a dribble of cum on the chin), the woman offers to pay this man (a stranger) to "watch her when she is unwatchable". Watch her do what? - I think I mentioned some of these things already, and I don't want to ruin all the surprises. Just remember that this is not a film for the prudish amongst humanity, nor is it a film for the weak-stomached - remember the tampon / water drinking incident? - now imagine watching it larger-than-life (I heard about a woman running out of the theatre in Toronto - gagging).

And speaking of larger than life, there sure is a lot of cock in this film. Hard hungry cock - and a lot of salivating close-up cunt shots. I use these so-called harsh words as a warning more than as an aesthetic tool (although I do love using them) - if you cannot handle reading the words cock and cunt and fuck in this review, well then, there is no way you could ever handle watching Anatomy of Hell. There is one scene, shortly after the now-infamous drinking scene, where the man and the woman, freshly fucked, pose post-coitally. She is atanding, blood running down her legs, the sheets covered in streaks of blood (like a massacre had just occured) and the man sits in the middle of it all, his still stiff cock soaked in the woman's monthly hemorrhaging. The man strokes himself as the woman tells him that he thinks he is bleeding himself and it scares him, even though he knows he is not really bleeding.

Okay, to stop obsessing on the sexual content, which is hard considering the film's own obsession with it, Anatomy of Hell is a dark, disturbing diatribe on sexual power of woman over man and man's attempt at harnessing that power himself. The two characters who dominate this film (only one other person ever even speaks) are not just an anonymous man and woman (even the credits don't list their character's names) but the representation of all of humanity - as well as an anaology of what man (and woman) can be. Before the opening blow-job. Before the opening credits. Before the Une Film de Catherine Breillat crashes upon the screen, we see a warning. We are made aware right away that the Actress' more "intimate" scenes were actually a body-double (a cunt-doppleganger if you will). The body-double is called an extension of the character - and with this body-double, we see the deep dark recesses of the lost figment of womanhood. The man needs no body-double, considering his past credits in XXX-rated films.

And then, in the end, after tasting the bloody apple of forbidden desire and insatiable lust, this proverbial Adam & Eve are brutally tossed out of Eden. Their psycho-sexual obsessions become their downfall, and they (the all-man and the all-woman) are ultimately punished for their sexual appetites and curiosites. Maybe then this isn't a parable on Original Sin, but instead a surrael look at modern society and its backstepping of rigid morality and ultra-conservatism. Maybe this is Breillat's outcry for a new Sexual Revolution. Both ugly and beautiful, Anatomy of Hell is a brilliant eulogy for the human race - is this really the end? [10/06/04]