Catherine Breillat begins her miserable new film “Anatomy of Hell” with a title card reminding us of the illusory nature of movies. “For the actress’ most intimate scenes, a body double was used,” we are told, as if this will somehow comfort us.
The actress in question, Amira Casar, does some alarming things with her lady parts in this movie, things that I, as a gentleman, will not discuss in great detail in this review. Breillat’s camera doesn’t miss a moment of it, because indeed, those alarming things are the movie’s raison d’etre. But don’t worry — a body double was used! Thank goodness! For a moment I was afraid that an actual professional actress had exposed and abused herself on film, but it turns out it was just a no-name body double. Who cares what THEY do?
This is an un-erotic sex movie, filmed in a sterile white room and full of joyless cavorting, and featuring probably the least titillating nudity ever captured on celluloid. It is about a man who hates women and a woman who hates men, written and directed by a woman who evidently hates women, too, and who shows remarkable contempt and disrespect for her audience as well. I hate this movie, but only because it hated me first. I only wish I had seen it last fall, when it was first released in the U.S., so it could have taken its rightful place on my list of the worst films of 2004.
The film is about two people, identified only as The Woman (Amira Casar) and The Man (Rocco Siffredi). They meet in the bathroom of a gay dance club, where she is slitting her wrists and is rescued by him. We are not told specifically why she is suicidal, but I do think that if a pretty girl like her would spend less time at gay dance clubs, she might feel better about herself.
When the man asks her why she cut herself, she replies, “Because I’m a woman.” And the philosophical mumbo-jumbo begins!
The woman offers to pay the man handsomely if he will come to her house every night and watch her. She is not clear on what, exactly, she will be doing that requires watching, but when he gets there for his first night on the job, it quickly becomes a cynical conversation about women and men. She observes that naked women inspire “disgust or brutality” in men, and he goes on to lecture her on women’s inherent obscenity. He is gay, but he claims to speak for all men regardless of sexual preference.
She is naked. He takes a lipstick and draws circles around her lady business. And then they have sex. It is mirthless and unpleasant, both for us to watch and apparently for them to have. He cries afterward, for no discernible reason. His thoughts are narrated in a woman’s voice. This is one of the Frenchest movies I have ever seen.
He returns on subsequent nights, experimenting with his curiosity about — and hatred for — the female anatomy. In long, often wordless scenes, he mistreats her body in vile ways with a variety of implements, all of which she accepts without question. (Let’s just say he puts the “hoe” in “skanky ho,” and I mean that literally.) For her part, she educates him on the mysteries of the menstrual cycle in a particular graphic, unsettling manner. I cannot think of any bodily fluid that is not represented vividly in this film.
Through it all, Breillat maintains one constant: Her movie is boring. I noted that her last film, the unpleasant but in many ways admirable “Fat Girl,” felt padded at only 82 minutes; “Anatomy of Hell” feels padded, too, and it’s only 73 minutes. Can Breillat tell a story? Can she make a point? Or is she so caught up in her own self-proclaimed avant-garde genius that she doesn’t have time to film anything presentable? As a legitimate filmmaker she is venomous and unwatchable; as a pornographer she is unarousing. Clearly film is not her medium.
Perhaps my description of the movie has made you morbidly curious to see it. Please believe me when I tell you that this would be a mistake. It is a lurid, obscene, pointless film, utterly without artistic merit or redeeming social value. It is gross, disgusting and perverse, a vile collection of misogyny, misandry and misanthropy. Do not watch it. If it must be watched, make your body double watch it for you.
F (1 hr., 13 min.; French with subtitles; )
In 2012, I reconsidered this movie for my "Re-Views" column at Film.com.