Philosophy meets porn in Anatomy Of Hell, the latest shockfest from arthouse sexual agitator Catherine Breillat, whose previous reports from the front line of the sex war include Romance, A Ma Soeur! and Sex Is Comedy. The plot is hardcore thin: a woman (Amira Casar) cruises a gay club and pays broody stud (porn star Rocco Siffredi) to spend four nights with her. A challengingly explicit delve into the female body (often quite literally), it's a unique cinematic example of feminist existential porn.
It's easy to claim that Anatomy Of Hell is nothing more than a cage-rattling freak show of provocative images. There are no characters, only ciphers; no story, only a last tango in Paris where a man confronts the "disgusting" softness of the body of the woman and its sticky secretions. So, a used tampon is placed in a glass of water then quaffed; fingers are poked into orifices; and, in the most 'oh-no-please-don't' moment, a garden rake is put to an eye-wateringly unusual use. For all the shocks, though, this is a stoically serious movie: it's anti-porn, a transgressive sex movie that's not against pornography but against the (male-dominated) objectification of women's bodies.
"ONE OF THE MOST GROUNDBREAKING FILMS IN RECENT MEMORY"
Undoubtedly destined to bore sensation seekers, Anatomy Of Hell offers a po-faced meditation on sexual difference that's a philosophy of the bedroom (required reading on this crash course include such heady French feminist theorists as Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray). It's such a niche film that it's unlikely to inspire the kind of moral hysteria that will have "Disgusted of Dagenham" writing into the tabloids.
Yet perversely, it's also one of the most groundbreaking films in recent memory in terms of both the explicitness of its sexuality and its commitment to such an austere intellectual discourse. No wonder Rocco looks so shell-shocked: this is sex not as comedy, but as the deepest, darkest male nightmare.
In French with English subtitles.