|ANATOMY OF HELL|
|dir. Catherine Breillat, 2004 71 *this review contains spoilers
Anatomy of Hell plunges deep within the world of Catherine Breillat, which is a disturbing and sometimes darkly funny place to spend some time. Itís pretty easy to see why many critics hated this film upon its release; it is a straight-faced provocatation that condemns all men as being repulsed by women and on top of that it also contains some gross-out moments that recall the sleazy early days of John Waters. However, as a commentary on both Breillat and her films to date, this film is fairly indispensable and it contains some of the most startling images of her career.
The film begins in a club where a woman (Amira Casar) is surrounded by men who are completely uninterested in her sexually. She reaches out to a man (Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi), staging a suicide attempt in the clubís bathroom. Later that night after her wrist is sown up she proposes that she pay the man to watch her the next few days where she is unwatchable. He agrees and the rest of the film contains their encounters, where she disrobes and exhibits her body to the man while they talk about sexuality (more specifically female sexuality).
The amount of onscreen nudity (and the opening disclaimer that states that some of the more explicit female nudity has employed a body double) recalls Breillatís previous film Sex is Comedy, which dealt with the frustration involved with filming nude scenes but also with the way the director (Anne Parillaud standing in for Catherine Breillat) manipulates the nude actors into expressing her authorship. This is also the case with Anatomy of Hell; with Breillat narrating the thoughts of her characters (I assume using the voice of her book Pornocatie as the source for her words) and also positioning the story as a non-narrative basically only to explore some of her thoughts on sexuality. The inhabitants of Anatomy of Hell are also not really characters in any specific way because they contain no personality traits outside of the basic ones needed for the films provocatation. Even when references to the past are made and shown, they are deterministically inclined only to supporting Breillatís thoughts on sexuality as she is choosing to express them in the film.
So in removing the film from traditional elements of narrative cinema, it is perhaps most rewarding to just examine some of the images Breillat chooses to express herself with in this film. Breillat chooses to treat everything related to the vagina as bodily horror, the womanís secretions are treated visually as though it is the slime from Ridley Scottís Alien. When the man encounters both the secretions and menstrual blood he treats them with the same disturbed curiosity a small child would treat toy goo; first studying it and then smelling it and finally tasting it. The vagina is also treated with a measure of childish curiosity, that he eventually begins to explore and decorate her anatomy with inappropriate tools (lipstick and a lawn rake) visually portrays his discomfort with her body.
Female blood is a recurring motif in the film, both with the womanís early suicide attempt and later with her menstrual blood, the blood is useful for Breillat because it represents a way that the womanís body stains the male body, leading to one of the filmís crucial images where a post coital Rocco strokes his blood drenched penis. The film positions this scene as oddly the most violent scene of the film and the blood is a stark contrast to what would normally be an erotic image. Another shocking moment of the film revolves around a soiled tampon which has been stuck in a glass of water as if it were a tea bag and then consumed. Watching the blood taint the pure glass of water actually forms an acute metaphor for the proceedings. If the female vagina is the star of the bodily horror of this film, the menstrual blood is the scariest ghoul in the haunted house