Cover Story: Look Away

Films like A Hole in My Heart and Anatomy of Hell are difficult to watch in their entirety, but they still need to be seen

Dec 22, 2004 at 2:06 pm

The first question an audience member asked maverick Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson after the Toronto International Film Festival screening of his latest feature, A Hole in My Heart, was a direct challenge.

"Do you respect your audiences?" the young man demanded to know.

The soft-spoken Moodysson, standing alone at the front of the theater, simply moved on to the next question. Perhaps the question was too ambiguous for Moodysson to answer. Probably Moodysson did not want to confront the young man with an answer he'd rather not hear.

With A Hole in My Heart (the film is scheduled for U.S. release in 2005 by Newmarket Films) Moodysson has clearly made a film that forces its audiences to look away. It's not for the squeamish, a real boundary pusher, which is what one should expect from adventurous filmmakers.

In a cluttered suburban Stockholm apartment, Rickard (Thorsten Flinck) is an amateur pornographer who is shooting his latest film with his friend, Geko (Goran Marjanovic), and a young woman, Tess (Sanna Brading). Richard's son, Eric (Björn Almroth), stays holed up in his bedroom, blasting his Industrial Rock music to block out his father's work.

The behavior between the bearish Richard and his would-be porn stars grows more disturbing as the shoot continues.

The bearish Richard loses control of his movie and himself. Eric confirms his hatred for his father when he fetches water from the toilet to give his father to drink.

Tess is a Barbie doll with pink highlights in her hair. She provides the film's standout moments when she discusses the cosmetic surgery she recently had on her labia. The labia surgery footage, something that could take place in a medical school, bests any of the film's sex scenes in terms of invoking queasiness.

Before finishing his question-and-answer session and leaving the theater, Moodysson credits the TV reality show, Big Brother, as a source of inspiration for A Hole in My Heart. He treats Richard and his aspiring porn stars like faux celebrities, much like the regular people who appear on reality TV shows. Moodysson never shies away from showing his characters at their most repulsive, and yet they're still sympathetic because they remind us of common people we pass everyday.

What does it mean to make a movie like A Hole in My Heart, something that people turn away from and that censors do not want you to see?

There is the art and the purpose of the film, which always takes precedent over its content no matter how graphic or upsetting.

Where is the safe haven for adult films, places they can be shown with out censorship? Not everyone can make it to the major film festivals. Are there true art houses that reserve space for challenging films? Are college administrators liberal enough to make room for hardcore films on their campuses?

American Pie and its two sequels — crude, but funny, Hollywood comedies — use oral sex and masturbation as the source for slapstick gags.

Controversial French filmmaker Catherine Breillat uses close ups of fellatio, masturbation and penetration for different purposes. A reputable filmmaker who makes challenging films for a middle-class audience of intellectuals, film buffs and college students, Breillat says that the difference between the art films she makes and conventional porn is that porn simply turns you on while hardcore films make audiences think about matters other than sex.

Anatomy of Hell, Breillat's latest feature (the film played major U.S. cities this fall) follows four nights spent together by a suicidal woman (model Amira Casar) who has paid a gay man (Italian porn star Rocco Siffredi) to come and watch her, especially her "unwatchable" places. They talk about every taboo and horrific aspect of sex. The point in the movie where everyone squirms is when Rocco brings a tool from a nearby shed and inserts it in the sleeping Casar's vagina.

Breillat wrote her first novel L'Homme Facile when she was 17, a book that could only be bought by customers older than 18. Anatomy of Sex is a follow up to Breillat's previous hardcore films Romance, Sex is Comedy and Fat Girl, and the film confirms her status as a sex educator for women, someone willing to address the dark and exciting sex topics other filmmakers avoid.

Breillat's tough uncompromising films are rarely seen in America, further proof of the country's conservative climate. A censor would argue that if smoking in movies encourages young people to smoke, then hardcore sex in a movie like Anatomy of Hell encourage young people to fuck. What censors are missing — and what they are refusing to accept from filmmakers like Breillat and Moodysson — is that the best sex films are always about something else. ©