Anatomy Of Hell
There Just when you insist you’ve seen everything on the screen: in the middle of Anatomy of Hell, this year’s plunge by France’s Catherine Breillat (Romance, The Fat Girl) into the inferno of seedy sex, the unnamed heroine (Amira Casar) pulls out her bloody tampon, dunks it into a glass of water, and she and her unnamed demon lover (Rocco Siffredi) each have a couple of sacramental sips. And nobody blinks or gags... except the audience? Or will only some in the crowd be ruffled? Non-evolved guys? Will free spirits applaud Breillat’s chutzpah in forefronting a gushy discharge as a bloody natural time of the month, not something loathesome and repugnant to keep lovers at bay?
There’s even what smells of feminine-hygiene product placement in the Brattle Theatre’s October 1-3 transgressive attraction: a box of Tampax sits on a table. Use at will!
No, Anatomy of Hell isn’t for everybody. It’s mostly not for me, who found the shock moments numbing and the obsessive story quite tiresome, even at a minimalist 87 minutes.
What happens? A melancholic, disturbed thirtyish woman climbs the stairs of a gay disco, enters the men’s room and promptly slits her wrist. A gay man follows her in, rescues her by bringing her to the emergency room. Saved, released from the hospital, she’s hardly grateful, accusing him of being in the lavatory only because he was looking to be sucked off. We’re in the Breillat universe, so within seconds the woman, a bandage on her wrist, is on her knees herself in the street. The man pulls out his donkey tool: we recognize it from Breillat’s earlier Romance, which also featured below-the-belt Siffredi. (He’s a famous Italian porn star.)
The woman has a randy proposition: she will pay this man to come to her abode for four nights and "watch me where I’m unwatchable." Look, but he needn’t touch. The fact that he’s gay is what she requires of her sadomasochist scenario: a haughty homosexual who has no need at all of females. When the man arrives for night one, he’s perfect. He sneers at her coquettish flirtations. He sits in a chair and rails about the "obscene nature" of women: "When you spread your lips,
we are revolted."
The nights pass. There’s lots of post-Bataille, hot-air dialogue (so French!) between our antagonist/protagonists, and Breillat also throws in some prurient antics to keep the audience tantalized. The man takes lipstick and paints the sleeping lady’s vaginal lips. On another occasion, he brings a pitchfork into the room and, somehow painlessly, sits it in the lady’s rectum. Again, she’s asleep, or is she just feigning? Is it all a passive erotic game, like the "Doctor" she submitted to in childhood (a flashback) with the smutty neighborhood lads?
Anatomy of Hell takes a familiar Last Tango in Paris turn, in which the buggerer man, a champion of anonymous sex, gets suddenly sentimental, bent out of shape that he doesn’t even know the woman’s name. He cries! And then the implied death-trip that we’ve been watching comes oh so true.
"The sexual issues are the kind that I used to care about when I was a feminist undergraduate," my spouse weighed in about Anatomy of Hell, which she still sort of liked.
But this male (what’s between the legs might make a difference!) couldn’t be persuaded that Breillat’s movie is more than a huff-and-puff, sex-soaked turn-off."