Anatomy of Hell (France ; 77 min.)

directed by: Catherine Breillat
starring: Amira Casar; Rocco Siffredi
Anatomie de l'enfer
Bruce says: "It is hard to say whether Catherine Breillat knows what she is doing or not. Her message is, I think, both blatant and encrypted. For a while I thought I was watching a feminist hate poem. Slowly my opinion changed. I finally settled on ANATOMY OF HELL being about intimacy more than gender or gender preference. I did have problems with the turn of events, but the problems did not interfere with my appreciation of Ms. Breillat’s filmmaking talent.

"A man rescues a woman from a suicide attempt in a bathroom of a gay bar. He takes her to get emergency care; she pays back his kindness with oral sex. Afterwards she offers him money to come to her home and watch her. She wants to repulse a man by exposing her body. She feels all men loathe women and that it goes to follow that a gay man would loathe her even more. For four separate nights he comes to her house by train and taxi. He does not just sit and watch, however, he also violates her in several different ways.

"Breillat is willing to test the limits and she does so within logical boundaries. For example when a garden hoe is used by the man as an implement of penetration, we do not actually see insertion. She also knows composition and uses the camera exquisitely. Less successful in ANATOMY OF HELL is the dialogue, i.e. the philosophy. Her visual command far exceeds her ability to write dialogue. Nonetheless, I admire directors who take really big risks even if I question the success of their results. Breillat also wrote the novel from which the film was adapted. I am curious to know whether it was a critical and/or popular success.

"Breillat forces the question whether graphic sex should be part of a work of fiction – on the screen. For many decades we have culturally grappled with sex as part of our fictional world. Generally speaking, society has praised graphic prose as art but damned most visuals as pornographic - graphic sex in feature films has been more or less taboo. Kevin Smith daringly used dialogue to challenge taboos about women’s bodies in CHASING AMY. But Banky and Alyssa simply traded their favorite cunnilingus war stories; we didn’t have to catch them in the act. Graphic, yes. But still safe.

"We are often exposed to graphic violence that has become standard fare in the film industry. Has the time come to treat sex in the same way? There must be millions of dramas out there that involve sex but have nothing to do with the missionary position. As more and more people now see film in their homes, will films like ANATOMY OF HELL find a more comfortable audience, one which is not publicly squirming in the presence of loved ones, friends and strangers? I suspect so.

"I did find it interesting that the man’s voiceover speeches were spoken by a woman (Ms. Breillat herself) and what the woman had to say was more psychobabble than it was fraught with meaning. Another problem: Not for a second did it appear that the man in question, the payee, was gay or disinterested in the woman’s body. The fact that Rocco Siffredi is a monumental porn star in Italy may have influenced my opinion. As an actor who recently turned forty, Rocco has made over two hundred porno films but has also written, produced and directed some of the recent ones as well. That probably explains why a body double was not required for the man’s tumescence although a body double was used for the female genital close-ups.

"Amira Casar (SYLVIA, HOW I KILLED MY FATHER) is a captivating screen presence, expressive in movement and facial expression. When she wasn’t talking I felt she made her strongest feminist statements. As for Rocco, his body is perfect; his acting skills less so. 4 cats"

Michael says: "I’m not knowledgeable enough to discuss the feminist politics or philosophies that are laced throughout Catherine Breillat’s (FAT GIRL, ROMANCE) latest film, ANATOMY OF HELL. However, upon reflection, this provocative film works on an even broader level for me. Superficially, Breillat posits that men (gay men in this case) fear and are disgusted by women; their sexuality; their femininity. I would go so far to say that man (in the more societal meaning) fears and is repulsed by anything that is different from them. This is so often the foundation of homophobia, racism, and, to take Breillat’s example, violence toward women. Yet through intimacy (in this case, forced) there can develop an understanding and awareness to begin again.

"In the film, a woman attempts to kill herself in a gay club, and is rescued by a man who finds her and takes her to a clinic. Afterwards, she offers to pay him if he will come to her home, examine her naked, exposed body and talk about what disgusts him about her. (Interestingly enough, she does most of the talking, although we are privy to both their thoughts, as spoken by director Breillat.) The man is forced to confront the greatest 'mysteries' of womanhood: her vagina, her menstrual blood, in somewhat extreme ways, and he is repulsed and frightened, yet also moved… by her vulnerability? her strength? her exposure of his own inadequacies? I’m not sure.

"There is also something religious going on here that I can’t quite grasp. (Ivy? Ned? Any help?) There is a significant shot of a crucifix on the wall of the woman’s bedroom. There is also (as Bob pointed out) a rather startling use of a large gardening tool that has three prongs, reminiscent of the three nails used to hang Jesus on the cross. The man also wears a cross around his neck that rubs along the woman’s body at various points. Further, in one of the centerpiece demystifications of the film, the woman removes a tampon, steeps it in water, and the two drink from the glass. 'Do we not drink the blood of our enemies?' she asks? To which I thought, 'We also drink the blood of Christ.' And there is much made of the life-giving relationship of the menstrual blood and by extension, how it differs from the blood that flows from her wrist in the opening scene, for example. The man immediately places his hand over the gash in the woman’s wrist, completely unafraid of the blood, yet the menstrual blood is an entirely different matter.

"There’s a lot to think about in ANATOMY OF HELL, and more bubbled up in my mind as I walked home. As Ned was saying before I saw the film, it does border on pretentious, but Breillat does a pretty good job pulling away from that particular ledge. There are also many levels of distancing in effect here. The film opens with a disclaimer that this is a work of fiction, and the more intimate scenes of the woman are preformed by a body double. The film is based on a novel by Breillat, and her voiceovers (presumably taken directly from the novel) enhance the fictional elements therein. It’s a fascinating work, sure to confound some (it certainly did that to me at times), make others angry, and still more shake their heads in exasperation. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I find it to be a fine film with a unique voice. Something Breillat certainly has in spades. 4 cats"

Hilary says: "Explicit yet thought-provoking in its best moments, pretentious and pornographic at its worst, Catherina Breillat's latest work, ANATOMY OF HELL, fascinates and repulses me, often in the same moment. Squeamishly, I'm glad I saw it at home on my TV rather than on the big screen. There are many images that I doubt I would've been able to tolerate at those dimensions.

:A side note: in briefly comparing this film to the other sexually 'controversial' film of the year, THE DREAMERS (laughably labeled controversial, especially in comparison to this film), it seems to me that blood in a sexual situation is the 'new' taboo to present. Gee, remember when graphic on-screen vomiting was edgy?

"I really couldn't connect with either character, so I was pleased that it clocked it at under 90 minutes; 2 cats."
Carolyn says: "A gay man finds a woman slitting her wrists in the bathroom at a gay club and takes her for emergency care. She repays him by giving him a blow job and asks him to come and observe her 'objectively.' There is a good deal of philosophical talk the first night and the man proceeds to perform various sexual acts in the four nights he spends with her. In the end he leaves and feels as though he has lost a dear friend though he doesn’t even know the woman’s name. Supposedly the core issue is feminist theory, but I think it is really about intimacy and I guess how that manifests itself in physical acts. 3 cats"
Ned says: I think that Breillat is a remarkable filmmaker and ANATOMY OF HELL perfectly embodies or perhaps emphasizes her most important qualities. I think that
the smart, serious dialogue in the film has been misinterpreted as being pretentious. I think that one of the most stunningly real moments captured on film this year is Rocco Siffredi breaking into uncontrollable tears after penetrating Casar for the first time. I love the fact that this film is an in-your-face, sexually charged tribute to Resnais and the other classic New Wave directors. I think the Cocteau inspired last act is terrific. I like the fact that Breillat uses these two characters to break down all confines of lust, love and sexuality and examine a weird, powerfully intense intimacy. This is a film that generates knee-jerk reactions and practically encourages misinterpretation and, no, it's not an easy film to like - I'm not sure that I really do - but I think it fits perfectly in a year of films that were made (intentionally or unintentionally) to encourage debate. This might be the sex and sexuality equivalent of a PASSION or F9/11 (ok that might be taking it a little far). I'm still not sure what the heck is up with that garden tool, though!

"So there are some of my thoughts; they're not too organized or particularly cohesive but maybe it explains a little more. Basically, I put ANATOMY on my list because I think it's an important and powerful film and it was one of the few films that I saw that really challenged me."

Bob responds: "Hmm… OK….

"I found myself rolling my eyes through the film. 'Pretentious' may not be the word I was thinking of, but I think it fits. I kept thinking that every line of dialogue was a screed of sexual politics and it reminded me of what characters in Sade’s Justine say to the poor innocent girl after they rape her.

"I had the same problem with FAT GIRL. An eleven-year-old doesn’t say things like (and I’m paraphrasing here) 'How can I despise you when hating you is hating a part of my very self?' But I did like SEX IS COMEDY, probably because there was less of that kind of talk, and when it did come up, it fit in the context of a director explaining her intentions to her cast and crew. But to have her explaining her intentions to the audience, as she does in ANATOMY OF HELL, particularly in the opening sequence of the film… well that really is pretentious.

"I was embarrassed by all the pseudo-religious symbolism in the film (and I include the gardening tool in that), so I can’t imagine how a religious person would feel about it.

"And I don’t think she either raised or answered any real questions. Do I feel that way because I’m male? I don’t think so… but maybe I’m not in a position to say."