French director Catherine Breillat's latest opus, Anatomy Of Hell is short on plot but high on imagery that is obviously meant to shock and provoke, more than to tell a story.
Amira Casar plays a woman who hits on a complete stranger, a gay man played by porn star Rocco Siffredi, that she meets on night while out gallivanting around a gay bar. She pays him to come home and stay with her for four consecutive nights, and during that time she asks that he poke, prod and inspect her body in all manner of bizarre and kinky ways. Basically, they have a lot of graphic sex and do strange things to one another.
At first Siffredi's character is distant and uninterested in Casar body but as time passes, he becomes more and more enthralled with her and even more enthralled with what he can do to her – and what he does to her gets freaky. He inserts a garden tool (a rake, specifically) into her, a used tampon, and a finger or two for good measure, and while the film isn't technically a hardcore porn film, it leaves nothing to the imagination and certainly isn't going to be shown on network television any time soon. This is strong stuff, and quite explicit too.
So aside from Casar and Siffredi doing strange things to one another for roughly eighty minutes, what else does the film have to offer? Well, as a narrative, not a whole helluva lot to be quite frank. The story is thin, to say the least. But as a film, a series of images up on the screen, there's more to it than that. The problem is, after watching the film I'm not entirely sure what it is.
If Breillat is trying to make a statement about how man can sometimes be afraid of women (be it that they are shy around them, or hesitant to be themselves rather than a macho stereotype, or even something as common as the ever popular fear of commitment), it gets a little bit lost in the imagery of writhing bodies and probed orifices. Maybe she's speaking out about the way that most pornography tends to supposedly objectify women for an almost entirely male audience? Again, by stooping to the same level the message gets confused and the film, while very well crafted from a technical standpoint, becomes a big paradox. Maybe that very paradox is the point though, and if that is the case, and the director was simply trying to get the viewer to think about why she's showing us what she shows us rather than spoon feed the message to us, then it worked. I'm just not entirely sure where to go with it all from there.
One a purely visual level the movie is well done. The colors are appropriately dull and lifeless to represent where the characters are at in the story, and the camera movements are slow and languid, giving things a rather dreamlike atmosphere that makes sense given the ambiguity of the actual story.
Anatomy Of Hell gets a great 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with great color reproduction and a very stable image. Edge enhancement and mpeg compression artifacts aren't a problem, and while occasionally there is an instance of softness visible in the image, overall it is quite strong with a pleasantly high level of detail obvious in it. There are no trails, as is sometimes common when a disc is ported from PAL to NTSC as it likely was in this case, and the picture is nice and clean without any print damage problems.
Oddly enough, for a film that is pretty much all music and dialogue (and therefore devoid of any major sound effects or action set pieces) Tartan has gone all out with the audio options on this DVD giving viewers three choices – a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and a DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix. All three mixes are in the film's native French language and all three have the same optional English subtitles available to them.
All three mixes sound very nice. Dialogue is clean and consistently clear, background music never overshadows anything and it swells to just the right volume at just the right time, and the lower end, though hardly aggressive, sounds nice and natural rather than forced or there for the sake of effect.
The main extra is a length interview with director Catherine Breillat that runs for just over an hour. Breillat at times seems a little reluctant to open up about where she was going with this film and she is rather vague in some of her answers, presumably on purpose. Thankfully though, there she divulges enough to answer a few of the questions you're obviously going to have once the end credits roll on this one. At times it is overly long and drawn out and it probably could have or should have been edited down a little bit but better too much information than not enough, and that's the case here.
Aside from the interview, Tartan has supplied a still gallery and trailers for Anatomy Of Hell, Phone, A Tale Of Two Sisters, Suspicious River, Doppelganger and A Snake Of June - an eclectic but interesting mix of titles.
Tartan has done a very nice job on the presentation of this film for its North American home video premiere. The video looks very good, the audio sounds great, and the extras, while not stacked, compliment the film nicely. Sadly, while Anatomy Of Hell plays around with some interesting ideas and themes it fails to capitalize on them and works better as a series of provocative images set to music than as an actual narrative or story. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.