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Movie Review: Anatomia

By Mike Everleth ⋅ February 16, 2009

Woman sitting in the tub with the water running

Anatomia, directed by Steven Jacobs, is probably the sexiest silent film ever made. And by “silent,” I don’t mean in the Stan Brakhage sense, i.e. simply a film without sound, but I mean in the classic D.W. Griffith sense with a music score and text intertitles.

The film is a modern-day update of the story of Sappho, the ancient lyrical poet. Here she’s played by Maria Castellon and has a romantic relationship with her live-in girlfriend Atthis (Debra Cassano), which we know is romantic because we’re immediately introduced to them via a pretty graphic sex scene.

To make the sex scenes — and there’s more after that initial one — feel more artistic than exploitative, Jacobs filters the action through gauzy sepia tones and sparingly applies a layer of fake film scratches to make the film appear “old.” It’s a successful look. Sometimes using  a video editing filter like scratches can make a movie look extra phony, but Jacobs uses just enough so that’s it not distracting and actually makes the film look softer and more romantic. Plus, it mixes well with the washed-out absence of both color and hard blacks and whites.

The idyllic life in bed with Sappho and Atthis turns ugly following an argument between them. In classic silent films, dialogue — and sometimes action — is summed up by quick title cards to make the plot clear to audiences. There are several title cards throughout Anatomia, but instead of a quick line or two, they are filled with whole passages culled from actual poems by Sappho. By not addressing the specifics of the action or the unheard dialogue, the title cards instead express Sappho’s raw emotional state and the strength of the passion of her love for Atthis. The specifics of the argument are thus irrelevant. Something was bound to blow up at some point or another.

Atthis abandons Sappho and the void is filled with Sinis (David Barnes), whom we learned earlier has sex with women and strangles them for sport. Sinis tries to take advantage of the emotionally devastated Sappho. She partially lets him out of anger, self-pity and frustration, but it’s clear from the set-up that all is not going to end well, although not exactly in the expected way.

The only place the film falters a little is in the set decoration, of which there really is none. Sappho and Atthis live in a flat-looking apartment with plain white walls with a couple of pieces of art hung here and there. What would have really tipped the film over the edge would have been if the lovers’ external world reflected their inner passion. The film is in sepia, so there’s no color, but a little flair in wall coverings or unique furniture would have provided a little extra visual oomph.

However, that’s a quibble. So much is so good here — the actors, the cinematography, the melding of poetry and plot — that Anatomia comes off as a very passionate and romantic little film.

Watch the Anatomia movie trailer: