Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sweet Movie (1974)

Directed by:
Dusan Makavejev

Only in the 1970s would something as outrageous, bizarre, challenging and shocking as this surreal sociopolitical satire (influenced by the theories of Austrian-American psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich) fly in the mainstream. This movie (which debuted at Cannes to much controversy and usually scathing reviews) is perplexing, surprising, subversive and wildly fluctuates between being very sharp and funny to being very base, crude and revolting. So I'll just lay it all out there right here at the beginning; much of this film went right over my head. I picked up on some of the jabs taken at the media's obsession with sex, the hopelessness of just about every political movement (Communism and capitalism are both targets) and how - regardless of what life may throw at you and whatever shit (pardon the foreshadowing) you have to deal with - life still has its sweet moments, after all. This is just one of those movies you watch, have your own theories about while you're watching it and then immediately hop online to read what everyone else has made of it. The DVD from The Criterion Collection thankfully comes with an interview with the director where he clears some of this up for us.

At the televised Miss World 1984 contest, elderly Martha Applenow (Jane Mallett), chairwoman of the Chastity Belt Foundation, tells women how to control their vaginal muscles during "these sick times." The contest is looking for the purest, most desirable, prominent and well-preserved virgin in the world and the winner will be awarded a hand in marriage to Martha's multi-billionaire milk magnate son (played by John Vernon). Since Miss Canada's (Carole Laure) vagina is so squeaky clean it actually glows (and she's been "certified pure" by the in-house gynecologist), she takes home the crown. Miss Canada is then whisked away to a mansion, where on her wedding night, she freaks out after seeing her new husband's gold penis (and he pisses all over her with it). Demanding a divorce, Martha and her male companion (Robin Gammell) attempt to drown her, then instruct their muscular black servant Jeremiah (Roy Callender) to get rid of her. He manages to get a manual assist from the virgin before he karate chops her, sticks her in a suitcase and ships her off to Europe.

Meanwhile, communist female boat captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal) is cruising around in a boat with an amazing giant head of Karl Marx on the front. A young sailor named Potemkin (Pierre Clementi) keeps following her on land and finally comes on board, pronouncing "I am your new lover!" The two get busy on deck in front of howling crowds on shore. The sailor proclaims that "The world is full of corpses" and then the film cuts to some disturbing black-and-white footage from the 1940s Katyn Forest Death Camp where soldiers exhume a mass grave containing the bodies of four-thousand Polish prisoners who were murdered and buried there. Later, Anna murders her lover in a vat or sugar and then invites a group of young boys on board, tempting them with an endless supply of candy, and performs a striptease for them (before killing them).

Upon arrival overseas, Miss Canada ends up meeting a Mexican film star (Sami Frey) in Paris, has sex with him in front of the Eiffel Tower and the two end up getting stuck together after being frightened by some nuns. They're taken to a restaurant and eventually separated. Then (in a near-catatonic state) she's carted off in a wheelbarrow full of lettuce to Otto Mühl's Friedrichshof artist's commune. There, a woman immediately breastfeeds her. At dinner, the commune members behave like pigs, throw food at each other, spit food in each other's faces (and into their mouths), puke and eat raw meat and a cow tongue. One guy fake castrates himself. Another guy drinks urine right from the tap. And it gets worse from there, during some regressive scatalogical therapy sequence. And here's a good time to redirect you to my reviews of MANOPSYCHOTISCHES BALLET (1970) and OH, SENSIBILITY (1970) if you'd like to learn more about Mühl and the Vienna Actionists movement.

Lead actress Laure (who'd go on to become a popular singer in Canada) quit the film before completion after being subjected to the commune's antics (plus having to suck on a breast and rub a flaccid penis on her face). Still, I have to say she was pretty courageous to hang in there for as long as she did and I seriously doubt any mainstream actresses of today would go as far as she does here. After Laure bailed, the subplot with Prucnal (also giving a daring performance) was added. Because of her participation in this movie, Prucnal was had her Visa revoked and was exiled from her home country Poland for seven years!

The film ends in an interesting erotic sequence mixing sex, death and food, as a nude Lauren sensually writhes around in a pool of melted chocolate.

Part of the true appeal of this film to a contemporary audience is knowing that a movie like this will never be made again; at least not at this scope and with these kind of production values. I certainly can't recommend it to everyone out there; especially those who like a cohesive narrative and/or have a weak stomach, but it's well-made, thought provoking, often very funny and filled with eye-popping images that you know you won't soon be forgetting once you've seen them.



Jared Roberts said...

Interesting review. I've known about Makavejev's delirious epics Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie for a good many years now, read quite a bit about them, but could never make myself watch them. In fact, when I decided to watch some Makavejev, I watched Montenegro Tango (after these) and The Tragedy of a Switchboard Operator (before these) instead. Both are very good films, though Montenegro Tango is a little too glib for its own good. Now I must make myself watch Sweet Movie.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

I know Mysteries of the Organism sort of ties into Sweet Movie in a way (at least referencing Reich theories). This is the only movie from the director I've seen but I'd definitely like to see more.

danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for Yugoslav Black Wave Wednesday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

Keep up the good work!

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