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Movie Review: L’érotisme

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 26, 2008


Distributed by Cinema Abattoir, the compilation of sexually charged films known as L’érotisme is hands down the single most disturbing film project I’ve ever seen. By the way, that’s a compliment and an extremely sincere one.

I recently read (and reviewed) Jack Sargeant’s history of the Cinema of Transgression movement, Deathtripping, and in it he asks each and every filmmaker if transgressive films are still being made. Basically all the filmmakers, such as Nick Zedd and Richard Kern, give the same answer of “I don’t know,” but they qualify that by nature a transgressive filmmaker isn’t going to be widely known or publicized. But, to find the real answer to Sargeant’s question, one needs to look no further than L’érotisme to see that transgression is certainly alive and kicking. And kicking sharply.

Generally when it comes to underground film festivals and DVD compilations, there’s usually a film or two that really pushes the limits of taste or just really gets under your skin and makes you itchy. Cinema Abattoir has taken eleven of those kinds of films and smashed them all together on one disc. The result is an unrelenting emotional assault and battery. I watched the entire disc in its entirety in one sitting and there were moments when I wasn’t sure I could accomplish that. It was a combination of feeling completely beat down, as if my squeamishness button had been ferociously pushed in a continuous pounding, as well as the fear of what I would be forced to endure next. There were honestly times when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, but I had a need to see what over-the-top cinematic perversions would follow.

I’m not sure if I’m making this DVD sound appealing at all to whoever is reading this. Punishment, perversion, transgression, assault and battery — I don’t know if these are terms that are going to make people say, “Hey, I gotta see that!” No, this isn’t an easy disc to take. As a challenging piece of art, it’s an extremely harsh mistress and a cornucopia of visual abrasiveness that’s as rewarding as it is difficult to digest.

Here’s reviews of the individual films in the order that they were viewed:

Ritualis, dir. Pat Tremblay. Ironically, the disc starts out somewhat sedately … with a Satanic ritual. The film may be filled with demented images of a Black Mass, ritual piercings — including that of a labia — and murder, but at least Tremblay cuts in some sedate winter forest scenery to give you a respite from the terror. Plus, with a fun death metal soundtrack and slick image and audio manipulation, Tremblay’s film is more fun than disturbing. It’s a very lively, catchy little short.

Maldoror: A Pact With Prostitution, dirs. Micki Pellerano and Nate Archer. Visually, Pellerano and Archer have done an excellent job mimicking B&W films from the silent era. The story is simple: Boy falls in love with Prostitution while a disgusting Glow Worm Head orders Boy to kill her. By the way, Prostitution is portrayed by a single topless refugee from a Kenneth Anger film (Lucifer Rising). Again, this is somewhat of a low-key film like Ritualis and provides a great contrast. Although both films feature heavy image and sound manipulation, Ritualis looks new and modern, while Maldoror successfully imitates the past. These two films certainly set up the tone for the rest of the disc, which alternates between these two styles.

Ass, dir. Usama Alshaibi. Now we’re getting into troublesome material. Alshaibi has been active in the underground scene in Chicago for years, but the first film I saw by him was the music video for “Hold My Scissors” on Other Cinema‘s Experiments in Terror 2 compilation DVD. “Scissors” I really loved. As for Ass, I really liked the concept. It’s a film that rapidly alternates between two shots documenting the same action. That action though is of Alshaibi’s wife Kristie, who goes by the name Echo Transgression, as she masturbates while crouching on her knees. The film alternates between a few frames of Echo’s face to a close-up of the masturbation and back and forth like that for several minutes, i.e. until Echo climaxes. The intense imagery and quick cutting are extremely powerful, almost too much so. As you start to invest yourself in one shot, you’re thrown into the other and I couldn’t really get a grip on either of the angles. For a few minutes, I was really into it, but after 10 I got kind of lost.

KI, dir Karl Lemieux. While pornography is generally about stark realism. You have to actually see the sex in order to get turned on, right? Not in Lemieux’s film. Amorphous B&W blobs eventually dissolve into two naked bodies getting it on. It’s like shooting a porno on ancient, deteriorated film stock. And yet, although Lemieux only teases the sex hidden behind totally washed out and cruddy cinematography, he still ends up making a somewhat titillating short.

La Fin de Notre Amour, dir. Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Presented as a series of still images and highly stylized ones with stark, vibrant primary colors of blue and red, a naked artist guy is interrupted from his anatomy studies by a faceless female visitor. The guy is highly disturbed by his guest and takes to slashing himself and toying with her with a knife. My interpretation of the events unfolding is of an artist having a love-hate relationship with his artistic soul, which he pays for with his body and his brain. The violence here is both very abstract and very concrete at the same time and the use of still images is extremely jarring. So, in that, it’s kind of like Alshaibi’s Ass, but I found myself more emotionally invested in Amour due to the more complex action.

Extase de chair brisee, dir. Pierre-Luc Vaillancourt and Frederick Maheux. This one was by far my favorite film of the collection. It’s kind of like a cross between The Road Warrior with Flaming Creatures with I Spit on Your Grave. In it, a pretty young woman minding her own business is grabbed and raped by two dudes wearing metal masks alongside the train tracks. They’re eventually interrupted by a woman wrapped up like a mummy who’s out walking her Gimp on a leash. The mummy woman then tortures the victim with a blowtorch. Left for dead, the victim returns wearing a gas mask and enacts a bloody, violent revenge against all of her attackers. This is also another silent B&W film with a whispery industrial noise soundtrack. Vaillancourt and Maheux capture the action in an extreme handheld close-up action. As grotesque as the plot is, for the most part the actual violence is either blurred out with lens and/or film distortion or takes place off screen. But what makes the film so unsettling is the whip-fast camerawork that gives the action a brutally intense ferocity. Plus that with the excellent costume design and eerie, disquieting soundtrack, this is one vicious, nasty piece of work. It’s great.

Baby Doll, dir. Serge de Cotret. The title says it. The “star” here is a toy tied up S&M style and “tortured” by an unseen assailant, mostly by spanking. This is kind of a snippet of a film and it’s interesting because in my review of the documentary Susan For Now, I pondered whether there was any sexual fulfillment in S&M style play, which from what I understand there isn’t. As brief as it is, Baby Doll plays with that notion by having a silent, unblinkingly cheerful recipient and a sadist whom we never see and don’t know what pleasure he/she/it is deriving from it.

The Loneliest Little Boy in the World, dir. Mike Dereniewski. This is another brief little film, this time a woman — a priestess, perhaps? — worships a giant pig’s head stuck on a post. She derives ecstasy during her ritual and her intense passion causes the pig’s head to burst into flames. Like Extase de chair brisee, there’s an unsettling abstract soundtrack made up of Satanic backwards chanting and various distorted grunts and yells. The message: Those that worship you the most will eventually just burn you out.

Paranoid, dir. Anne Hanavan. And speaking of worshipping, the main disc concludes with a naked platinum blond Hanavan wielding a camcorder — well, she’s wearing stockings and a crucifix — “worships” her own body on a bed in front of a wall-length mirror. And that’s all to the tune of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” It’s a very rock ‘n’ roll film.

There are also two bonus features on the disc:

D’Yeux, dir. Monk Boucher. This is less a short film than a filmed collection of Monk’s erotic collage art set to classical music. We get to see different details of the art work and shots of each painting in full. It’s nice art, but I found myself fast-forwarding so I could look at the work at my own pace than the one Boucher sets up for us. Beautiful artwork, by the way.

Imerpatrix Cornicula, dir. Jerome Bertrand. I believe this is a fragment of a longer work by Bertrand. Here we get a woman writhing on the snow-covered ground while rubbing black feathers all over her body. It’s a final, nice homage to Mother Nature.

To purchase and find out even more about L’érotisme please visit the Cinema Abbatoir website.