Thursday, June 01, 2006

Anatomy of Hell (2004) UR

Anatomy of Hell is an explicit, complex and at times shocking film by Catherine Breillat. The film has many themes, but certainly a central topic is the women’s menstrual cycle or more specifically having sex during menstruation. Breillat asks why is this a curse, why do men avoid sex during menstruation and why is women’s blood “unclean” and Jesus’ blood redemptive? As with all her films the plot deals with women and their sexuality. However, the sub-plot in this film is sex and Christianity. I believe only Catherine Breillat could direct and produce this film.

Catherine Breillat is a French film director and producer. She is a woman who admits that all of her films are about sex. Critics say that she is uniquely concerned with a women’s understanding of her own sexuality. She focuses on women and sex with such explicit and graphic detail that she is known as “the auteur of porn.” In all of her films the actors have real sex. Breillat believes that a “visual display of sex is inseparable from the representation of the consciousness of her female characters.” Translation, her actresses have to have real sex to play the roles and the audience has to see real sex to understand her films. And yes Martha, we see real sex and much more.

The sub-plot of this film is society’s, specifically religion’s prejudice against menstruation. That, of course, brings me to Jesus Christ and menstruation. The Pulitzer Prize author Garry Wills in his recent book “What Jesus Meant,” argues that Jesus publicly broke Jewish religious laws to demonstrate that God lives “within our hearts, not through religious rules.” Wills illustrates this point by Jesus’ actions towards menstruating women. Wills traces the gender separation in Islam, Judaism and Christianity to the belief that menstruating women are impure and untouchable in “God’s eyes.” Since religious leaders cannot tell which women are having their period, complex and elaborate rules are created to either segregate woman from sacred locations or to separate menstruating women from men. Wills teaches that Jesus purposely and publicly violated Jewish rules regarding menstruating women. He sites the story of Jesus and the women at the well. Jesus asks for her to give him a drink in spite of her warning him that she was unclean (menstruating). Jewish laws forbid menstruating women to serve food or drink. Wills also noted that Jesus draws attention to the women who touched him in a crowd. The women sought healing from a menstrual flow that would not stop. Despite Jesus’ teaching, it took less than 200 years after his death for the Christian “fathers” to reinstate Jewish type laws segregating women particularly during menstruation. The paradox of Christianity is that the blood of Christ is what redeems mankind and is “drank” at each communion service. This paradox is not lost on Catherine Breillat.

The film’s story centers on a women played by Amira Casar. The woman invites a gay man home and pays him to accompany her for four nights. She undresses and is nude throughout the rest of the film, nearly 90 minutes. The woman at first invites the man to watch her in various erotic poses. The gay man becomes more and more curious to explore every part of her body (and we really mean explore, as in an ob-gyn exam). He is surprised by his erection, which is not left to the imagination. They have sex. She begins to menstruate at the end of day two. Sex is only part of what the couples does during day three and four. Among other things, Amira teaches her suitor and the viewer all the details of replacing her tampon. I will hold back describing all the details, but you clearly get the idea.

Throughout, Catherine Breillat shoots the film from views of Jesus on the bedroom wall. Part of the sex scenes turn into a worship services including communion (I will let you figure out whose blood is drunk). The film at times is erotic but mostly is an explicit curiosity. Nonetheless, I really liked the film. I really like Catherine Breillat’s films however many would find them too shocking. I like her bold, unblinking study of women and sex. As she puts women under a magnifying glass, men become in better focus. Amira gay paid suitor ends up “converting” to heterosexual love. Catherine Breillat and Jesus therefore both teach to touch women when they are “untouchable.”

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