Monday, May 11, 2009

the difficulty of difficulty...

I'm not really sure how to start off a review for a film like like Lukas Moodysson's A HOLE IN MY HEART. Although I didn't like the movie, really didn't like anything about it, I don't want to come off as reactionary when discussing it, because I think ultimately this is a film that wants to offend and be rejected. It's an intentionally difficult movie, which isn't a bad thing, but the way in which it's challenging had less to do with confrontational concepts and ideas than challenging the viewer to sit through 90 minutes of disjointed discord and gross out. What ideas the film does have are established pretty well early in the film, after which we're given nothing new but escelating scenes of degredation meant to drive home these fairly trite notions about viewership and sexuality.

The setup for A HOLE IN MY HEART is simple. While his sullen teenage son hides in his room, a low rent pornographer and two performers shoot a extreme amateur porn film in the living room. The film within a film becomes more disturbing as the pornographer and actors get drunk and high and begin to get at the rawer emotional problems that have driven them to this line of work. The whole film is portrayed through disjointed narrative, haphazard editing and a nonmusical electronic soundtrack. All these elements are designed to challenge, but come off as kind of obvious, they all just telegraph- THIS IS A DIFFICULT MOVIE, YOU ARE NOW BEING CHALLENGED. It all feels kind of tired, or maybe just tiresome.

It's interesting that a film like this, which shows near-hardcore sex footage and graphic images of labial surgery, vomiting and other supposed taboos, actually seems so moralistic when it comes to pornography. The idea is that these people are so damaged that this is all they can do, the porn they are making is clearly portrayed as exploitative. Moodysson seems to want to have his cake and eat it to, providing "how much can you take?" images of sex and violence while seemingly simultaneously make a film, not about the "evils" of pornography exactly, all occupies an ambivalent moral space.

I'm all up for any film that provides a challenge. Some of the best films, of course, provide an intellectual challenge, forcing the viewer to think in new ways about things or to confront difficult ideas or concepts. Sometimes challenging narrative techniques can be effective, forcing the viewer out of the comfort zone that more easily digestible movies can provide, forcing us to see things in new ways. And sometimes challenging content can be effective, if it's sex or violence or other cultural taboos. But rarely does a film that exists solely for the purpose of providing a difficult viewing expeirence work. Without a stronger underlying intent behind that, the film becomes nothing more than an exercise. A HOLE IN MY HEART is an exercise, and a pretty lame one at that.

Why are films about sex so rarely good? It seems like the filmmakers most willing to tackle the subject are those who have the least to say about it. There are definitely some exceptions, I think some of Catherine Breillat's films, at least her more recent ones, are both thoughtful and challenging, and approach sexuality from a mature perspective, but there are many more films like A HOLE IN MY HEART which infantilize the subject (I think the same could be said for most pornography as well), exposing the physical, near-gynecological side of things without getting at any of the complex emotional or cultural/social designs behind it. And why are all films about sex so consistently unpleasant? It's as though filmmakers view sexuality as a problem, something that needs to be addressed, and confronted, as opposed to a natural part of the human experience, something that, as far as I can recall, is generally fairly pleasant? I suppose it's possible that the better filmmakers of the world simply aren't as preoccupied with unpleasant notions of sexuality and have moved beyond their sexual obsessions enough to make them elements within the larger tapestry of their films, rather than their raison d'etre. I dunno, something to think about I guess...

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