Quick- Name five movies about a tough cop. Okay, now five disaster movies. Now try five terminal illness movies. Five comic based movies. Five political thrillers. Now, try five movies about sexual dysfunction..... That last one is pretty hard.
When it comes to sex and cinema, the focus tends to be on the steamy, titillating, the dangerous side, or maybe even just the sleazy. Films tackling sexual dysfunction are few and far between. And, when watching Bliss an uneven film about sexual dysfunction, it is clear to see why- it is a topic that can become unintentionally laughable. But the film is still somewhat engaging because, well, they just don't make many movies on the subject.
Joseph (Craig Sheffer) and Maria (Sheryl Lee) are newlyweds who after six months of marriage find themselves already undergoing marriage counseling. They seemed to be a balanced pair, Maria is a compulsive and a bit fragile, Joseph more assured and seemingly well-adjusted. But, Joseph's own hang-ups come out when he finds out that Maria fakes her orgasms and is further incensed when he discovers she is secretly seeing an rouge sex counselor, Baltazar (Terrence Stamp), who has sex with his patients. Joseph's anger is eventually subdued when he discovers that Baltazar has uncovered the fact that Maria underwent abuse as a child. As Maria's comulsive behavior gets worse, Joseph seeks out Baltazar's unique brand of therapy in order to conquer their problems with intimacy and hopefully save their marriage.
The odd thing about Bliss (1997) is that it is hard to tell just how serious it is supposed to be taken. It has this pretension, this mock up intelligentsia, an art house veneer to it that eliminates any naturalism. The direction, the characters, is all purely cinematic and a bit over-the-top (this is no struggling working class couple, but your usual art house, young, upper class white people who can take the time to spend all day with sex therapists). Look at it this way, they cast Terrence Stamp as an unorthodox sex guru. Although he is a good actor, Stamp is one of those actors with character actor baggage, so casting him in such a role instantly opens the door for the film to shatter any realistic illusions and almost takes the film down a tongue in cheek path. I mean, the man looks like a Bond villain. But, Bliss also isn't salacious or any kind of parody. The subject matter is very thoughtful and intent. Unfortunately the film is bogged down by poor writing and a flamboyant tone. It is about sexual nurturing, getting rid of baggage so that you can connect on a emotional level, both in yourself and your partner, before you connect with the physical. It is a film about abuse and the guilt victims often have over having that basic pleasure sensation during an abusive act. Serious stuff. But it also is a film that uses new age, tantric methodology and terms like "injaculation", which, if your like me, will get a giggle. And, near the end of the film, when Joseph says to a complete stranger that he needs to preserve his orgasms for a better sex life with his wife (and the guy just says "thanks"), everything falls apart into the unbelievable. Not only does it seem out of character for Joseph, but no one in their right mind in the real world would do that.
Considering the bold but melodramatic material, the principle cast does fairly well. Sheffer (Nightbreed, A River Runs Through It) comes off the worst as is a bit wooden (no pun intended). The uptightness of Joseph (here is a grown man who says "down there" instead of vagina) seems forced. Given the character with the most to do, the most psychological quirks, Sheryl Lee fleshes out Maria convincingly and bares said flesh, much to the delight of this red-blooded American male and die-hard Laura Palmer/Twin Peaks fan. However, despite the hokey nature of his character, it is Stamp who really shines and carries himself with the assured manner befitting both his character and an actor of his caliber. It is just a shame that a film with these performers and about such an interesting subject wasn't better, more convincing, less unintentionally laughable, and false.
The DVD: Columbia Tristar
Picture: Both Full-Screen and Anamorphic Widescreen versions. Overall the color is great, fleshtones are rich, sharpness and grain are good for a modestly budgeted film. The contrast could be a bit deeper. There is some minor edge enhancement, but no noticeable artifacts or pixellation and the print is very clean.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, English language with optional English, Spanish, French, or Japanese subtitles. Sound is fine. A decent stereo track. Dialogue and music mixed well. No complaints here.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Trios 2: Pandora's Box, The Mirror has Two Faces, and Spiders Web.
Conclusion: Well, $29.99 seems a bit steep for an essentially barebones disc, especially one of such a selective, under the radar film. The transfer is pretty good, though, so fans of the film will definitely want to pick it up. The lack of extras and my middling criticism of the film itself put me on the fence, so anyone unfamiliar with the film should give it a rental before shelling out the cash for a bare disc.