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A Home at the End of the World

I watched this because I listened to the audiobook of the novel and loved it, and when I found out there was a movie too, and that Robin Wright is in it, that really put the icing on the cake. I liked her ever since 1984 when the soap opera “Santa Barbara” started on TV.

Michael Cunningham wrote the novel and the screenplay. Cunningham is obviously an expert on the folks who practically invented the concept that, as the film’s tagline puts it, “Family can be whatever you want it to be.” This work comes from a mind saturated with Bloomsbury lore–Cunningham also wrote The Hours, a novel about Virginia Woolf that was made into a movie.

One of the central figures of Bloomsbury was the painter Duncan Grant. Apparently nobody ever said a bad word about Grant. He seems to have been universally loved by males and females alike, and the character of Bobby in A Home at the End of the World is what I imagine Duncan Grant must have been like.

When Bobby is nine, his big brother Carl gives him some windowpane, and they trip in the graveyard. Carl is a really beautiful guy, a true bodhisattva, and his relationship with his brother is probably the one he’s most present for. Of course Carl dies horribly and far too young. But rather than being messed up by that tragedy, Bobby incorporates Carl’s spirit into himself, and becomes exactly the same kind of loving and lovable person. (Carl is played by Ryan Donowho, who was in Michael Pitt’s band Pagoda, and for some reason that doesn’t surprise me.)

Bobby seems to be about 14 when he picks a friend and gets him stoned, out in the midst of lush nature, ahhhhh…..  He lends Jonathan his dead brother’s jacket, and Jonathan lends Bobby his jacket, and their bond is cemented. Jon’s mother Alice walks in on them getting stoned, and to Jon’s flabbergasted astonishment, Bobby induces her to join them. It’s a lovely scene, mother and son handing off a doobie to each other. Even more mind-boggling, Bobby slow-dances with Alice. Then they all dance. This is a dope-positive movie, and there aren’t enough of those.

Bobby pretty much joins the family. When Alice discovers that the boys are fooling around, she’s okay with it, but Jonny is uptight. Bobby is totally comfortable with the relationship. “It’s just love, man.” When somebody else is fretting about something or other, Bobby is likely to say, “This is perfect.” His best line is, and these are words to live by, “You can dance to anything.”

Now they’re grownups. Jonny (Dallas Roberts) has moved to New York. Bobby (Colin Farrell), who looks a lot like that iconic photo of David Foster Wallace, has stayed with his friend’s parents. But they plan to move to Arizona, and the father gently suggests that Bobby needs to be on his own. So he calls Jonathan, who is by now a full-fledged bisexual living in New York with an artistic wild woman named Clare (Robin Wright of course.). These are the kind of people who listen intently to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” several times in a row. The three of them form a coalition, and Bobby learns that Jon and Clare have talked about having a baby. Clare talks Bobby into losing the hippie look. She cuts his hair, then takes him to bed. It’s his first time with a woman, and his reaction is a bit extreme, unless you factor in the feelings he might be having about betraying Jon. Of course Jon has male lovers, but the woman he lives with is a different case.

And sure enough, Jon is upset with the new closeness of Bobby and Clare. He goes to stay with his parents for a while, and won’t even take Bobby’s calls. But then his father dies, and Bobby and Clare arrive in Arizona to reclaim the lost member of their triad. Clare is pregnant and wants them all to be a family. So they reconcile. Her inheritance will buy them a house.

They abandon New York City and fix up a house in the country, and open a café in town, with Bobby as cook and Jonny as staff. The baby is born. Jon fears that he has AIDS. There’s another exquisitely beautiful, wild, life-affirming scene where the two men dance. They are so hot together, it’s just magical.

There’s a lot of detail passed by in the movie that was probably in the novel – like, who is the baby’s bio-father? And does Jon ever actually get tested for HIV, and does Clare know about his worries; and if the little girl is his, shouldn’t she be tested too? Anyway, Clare and the baby get ready to go on a trip. Everybody pretends to believe it’s just temporary, but she’s leaving Bobby and Jonny alone. But we know Jon is going to die, so she’ll end up back with Bobby and a nuclear family eventually.

People who create unorthodox families are incredibly brave and admirable. It’s mean-spirited to be irritated with these characters because they couldn’t make it work perfectly, all the time. On the other hand, they did make it work amazingly well for an astonishing amount of time, which is more than most of us are equipped or inclined to do. So, bless them.

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Under the opening credits, scenes of New York in 1920s or ’30s. Black and white newsreels of a big celebration – the end of World War II? Anyway, it’s sometime in the first half of the 20th century. And we’re lucky it doesn’t start with scenes of Morocco, which probably looks pretty much the same now as it did then. So that would be really confusing.

A young couple, Kit and Port, travel with a friend. On their foreign-shores arrival, Port defines the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Kit tells their friend Tunner, “I’m half and half.” It’s a clue that she is already half inclined to get a new life. In her luggage we glimpse a copy of Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood – So it’s 1936 at the earliest, and the book is a nice period touch -just what this character would be reading. Did I mention that Kit is played by Debra Winger? And Port is John Malkovich. How often are two of my personal idols in one movie? Not very.

Paul Bowles, who wrote the original story, is narrator, though thank Goddess there are only a couple of lines of narration. He’s this dapper old dude hanging around the Grand Hotel and watching the couple, Porter and Kit, interact, and the third guy travelling with them, as if they were his own private soap opera. The Bowles character is interesting. If this story is anything like his real life, it exactly expresses how he would be looking back, as an old man, at his younger self. Or you could make a case that he’s the Witness, the part of one’s self that always stands back and watches.

In the café, Tunner carries on like a picky tourist just because there are “corpses” (bugs) in the soup. Kit and Port slurp their soup in unison and with enthusiasm, making their friend feel like an outsider. But when he leaves in a huff, they admit to each other how lousy the food is. Couples do this. They exclude others, but they also bring others into their relationship and use them as pawns, or retaliation tools, or jealousy goads, or whatever. This is primarily a relationship movie, and it depicts faithfully the couple dynamic, the games played, the underlying loyalty and solidarity.

In the hotel where they all stay, Kit and Port have separate rooms. But when Tunner quizzes her about it, she says it’s not good to confuse sex with sleep. This is a woman after my own heart. Later, Kit rather pointedly shuts Port out of her room. But the next day, she invites him to rub her tummy. But they don’t make love, apparently. They seem to have a complicated thing going on.

Then, she doesn’t want to go for a walk with her husband. Port goes off on his own and finds beautiful scenery, overlooking a lower place. You can tell he’s bitter that Kit is not there to share it. He lets a man lead him to a courtesan. To reach her, they have to climb down a ladder to a valley where the fires of many encampments burn. It’s like descending into hell, in a symbolic kind of way. Port learns from experience that, unlike his native land, in this country the courtesans kiss. A lot. At least, this one does. She also steals his wallet, but he knows, and gets it back. Instead of just leaving quietly, he flaunts the fact that she didn’t succeed in ripping him off. To her way of thinking, however, it’s the foreign visitor who stole something from her, by daring to recover his own property. She ululates an alarm, the men come running, and there is a desperate pursuit.

Tunner peeks into Kit’s room, and into Port’s room. He knows Port hasn’t been back all night, but Kit rumples up his bed and tells a lie, she says Port already got up and went out. But then Port returns from his wild adventure, and there’s his wife and their friend, in his room, with the bed messed up. Naturally, he suspects a dalliance. Kit takes out her bad temper on Tunner. “Stop trying to be interesting. On you it looks terrible”

Kit and Port go off on long bike ride, and end up on vertiginous overlook. They make love, but then he starts talking while they’re doing it, and apparently they talk too much, I think we’re supposed to conclude that he loses his erection, and Kit is obviously frustrated.

In town, a funeral procession goes by, with the deceased carried on a litter at shoulder height by several people in a way that is businesslike, not at all dignified or stately. They move so briskly, the corpse bounces around.

Port asks Kit “Could you be happy here?” Talk about foreshadowing! They talk about the fact that they’ve been married seven years, which Port doesn’t think is a long time. “We will stay in El Gaa” is another prophetic utterance.

Tunner intends to follow them to El Gaa but actually, he and Kit have gotten together by now, and Port wants to keep them apart, so he and his wife move on to another town. Port is desperate to find transportation, but a clerk tells him it’s impossible. From a handful of currency, he flings bill after bill at the man in negligent flicking way, then grabs the front of the guy’s clothes. Having seen the money and the violence, the clerk asks “American?”

Port falls ill, and Kit goes off to look for the hotel, probably hoping someone will come back and help her carry him. Meanwhile, he is surrounded by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, who play their curative music over him. He intuits that the music is beneficial, and beckons them closer. Kit comes back, finds Port on the ground in the midst of all this, and tells the shamans/musicians to stop. But Port flings more money, and they start playing again.

After some horrible days in a bare room, Port dies. Kit flags down a passing caravan, and is appropriated by a desert sheik who takes her home to be one of his paramours, and there’s a very exotic love scene. But then the other wives and the rest of the people in the settlement drive her away.

Tunner is still hanging around in the couple’s last known location, where he’s been waiting for three months to hear something. He seems to have gone somewhat native. He’s wearing baggy pants, anyway.

Rejected by the locals, Kit tries to steal or buy some soup in the marketplace, but she’s not allowed to do either. The people set upon her. Next, we see her in a hospital. Her hands and feet are covered with either henna designs or tattoos. A Red Cross woman takes her away in a car. They arrive at Tunner’s hotel, and the Red Cross woman leaves Kit alone while she goes to find him, but when they come back Kit is gone. She wanders around and winds up back up in the same place where the Paul Bowles character is still hanging out in the dining room. Then he does some voiceover philosophizing about how we think we have forever, but we don’t, and how the number of times when we will do the things we love are finite.

This movie has a great look, especially the window treatments in that part of the world. I forgot to check the credits to see who was the fly wrangler. A lot of flies were around when Port was deathly sick. Are they real flies? Or added by digital magic? Here’s my last question. If black absorbs heat, and the body loses 80 percent of its heat through the scalp, why in this scorching desert climate do people enclose their heads in cloth that appears to be treated with tar? Is it tar? Don’t their brains bake? Why not, at least, wrap up in white cloth, to reflect some of the heat? Or why not just go bare-headed, and take advantage of the natural air-conditioning properties of hair? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these people know what they’re doing. They’ve had centuries in which to perfect their ergonomic relationship with the climate. I’m just wondering how this seemingly counter-intuitive solution works in practical terms, that’s all.

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

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sin-you-sinners1

Bobbi is an over-the-hill but still spirited exotic dancer. Somebody ought to remake this movie with Madonna in the great role of Bobbi. Aided by the power of a Haitian amulet, she holds in thrall a guy named Dave, a born loser she pulled out of the gutter. But Dave can’t keep his hands off Bobbi’s daughter, young Julie, who looks like one of those “draw me” art school ads that used to be in the backs of magazines.drawme

There’s some kind of honky voodoo ceremony, where Julie gets to show her stuff. She and Dave run away together, and there’s some very Freudian cross-cutting between their tryst, and Bobbi’s onstage bump-and-grind. The amulet does its work, and Dave comes crawling back. Desolate Julie wanders out into the night and is stalked by a leering man rolling a cigar around his mouth in the most hideously lascivious way.

This terminally camp film is odd, in that long stretches of it seem as if they were made for a silent film. It’s broadly acted, like a silent. Yet, there is dialogue – sometimes, lots of it. But the sound quality is awful and the continuity is sub-par. On the other hand, there’s human sacrifice in the club’s storeroom, and Julie ends up with the amulet.

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bad-timing

Under the credits, a man and a woman wander through a museum in Vienna, comporting themselves like lovers. We get close-up views of luscious romantic Klimt paintings and then – a Schiele canvas, in which a man desperately holds onto a woman who looks very much like she wants to get away.

He is American research psychologist Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel) and she’s an American too, Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell), who comes and goes across Austria’s border and has a husband over there in Czechoslovakia. Russell is beyond superb. While directing the movie, Nicholas Roeg fell in love with her, and you can sorta tell from the way the whole thing is a showcase to display her. She deserves it. (They got married, had a couple of kids, and divorced.) Her eyes seem to change color in different scenes – there’s one in particular where they are the palest icy blue, yet seem a minute later to be dark.

The first question you have to ask about Milena is, what does she live on? When she moves, she only takes along one small bag. Yet she has fabulous clothes and an apartment full of stuff. Is she a trust fund baby, or does she hold onto the Czech husband because he’s rich, or what? There’s no indication of her ever doing any kind of work. She can get away with being drunk, having irresponsible, impulsive adventures, and so forth. Her source of income isn’t relevant to the plot, but geez.

Along with his research and teaching, Alex Linden does occasional jobs for the US intelligence services. For instance, a spook hands him two files, and tells him to find out if either of the subjects “sniffs cocaine or plays with little girls or boys.” Linden, who should know better, is a poor security risk. He brings files home. He brings home a file on Milena’s husband, which includes her photo and biographical information.

We learn the story of Milena and Linden in flashbacks. In fact there’s probably more cutting back and forth in time than in any movie ever made. It’s pretty disorienting. So go ahead and watch it twice.

In the present, an ambulance takes the overdosed Milena to the hospital. Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) extracts the story from Linden. Milena had called him up and said “I’ll be dead in a minute, I wanted to say goodbye” and of course he went right over. It was no big deal, she’d overdosed before. Linden paints her as a wild woman who denies herself nothing, a woman to whom something dreadful was bound to happen sooner or later.

But the inspector sees a few discrepancies. Linden says he talked on the phone with Milena long after she would have already been comatose. And his car radio is tuned to a station that doesn’t start broadcasting until midnight. And so on. In other words, Netusil suspects exactly what happened. Far from rushing to Milena’s side and summoning help immediately, Linden waited to make sure she would die, and “ravished” her in the meantime.

We see how it went down. When Linden first arrived, Milena was still semi-coherent. Collapsed on the floor, with almost no motor skills left, she managed to get the telephone. Linden pulled the jack from the wall and replaced it later, after it was too late. Looking around the apartment, Netusil somehow intuits all of this. He even seems to have psychic visions that tell him what happened.

Linden puts Milena on her bed, saying “We don’t need anybody else. Just you and me.” While waiting for her to die, “It’s better this way, believe me, there was no other way.” After pacing around for a while, he cuts her clothes off and rapes her inert body, saying “I love you.”

At the beginning of their affair, Milena had pursued Alex, who hung back at first. We see them in happier times. He reads to her from the poetry of William Blake, the verse

What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire. *

A scene where Milena’s in bed with her husband implies that she isn’t getting sexual satisfaction from him, although that’s not the only reason she goes out in search of adventure. He’s 30 years older, for one thing. Once when Milena goes missing for a week, Linden calls her husband, who is bored, dismissive, and contemptuous of this weak American, who can’t muster the necessary intestinal fortitude to deal with such a woman. The husband tells Linden that a man has to love Milena even more than his own dignity. And, as Linden learns, more than he loves being told the truth. She persists in lying about her marital status, and Linden crosses over to Czechoslovakia and bothers some hostile bureaucrats to try and find out if she’s divorced or what.

Linden wants Milena to move in with him, he wants her to return to the States with him and marry him. We sit in on one of his lectures, where he speaks to the students about how we are all spies. He knows all about this, because he spies on Milena a lot, and suffers terribly from jealousy, while she relates to a lot of different men.

But that’s not all. She does heedless things, like burn his car’s upholstery with a cigarette. She can be an embarrassing drunk. In one horrendous scene she’s invited him over. Her place cleaned up as if by the world’s most dedicated housewife, and she’s wearing some kind of mock-sexy outfit and enough makeup to turn her from a flashy woman into a grotesque clown. She’s changed herself into what he seems to want her to be. He leaves, and from the balcony she hurls bottles into the street, yelling at him so the whole neighborhood is disturbed.

Soon their discourse is reduced to “What?” and “Why?” as brilliantly encapsulated in one scene. He wants to possess Milena, who can’t be possessed. “You don’t own me. I don’t own you,” she says. She enumerates some of her priorities – to get up when she wants to get up, and eat when she wants to eat, and not to be with people she doesn’t like. (These are core values I recognize, and I don’t think a person who holds them is necessarily a monster of selfishness.) They have a terrible argument on the stairs and she declares, “I just want to be allowed to give where I can – what I can – to who I can.” What she most likes to give, and there’s nothing wrong with this, either, are the Lineaments of Gratified Desire.

There’s a lot of cross-cutting to emphasize the twinship of sex and death. From Milena’s orgasm to her convulsions on the emergency room operating table. From the couple having sex, to the doctor spreading her legs and going in with a speculum to look for rape evidence. From Milena’s head hanging over the edge of the bed during sex, to the doctors doing the tracheotomy.

With unflagging persistence, the inspector interrogates Linden. He’s fully tuned in to the atmosphere of claustrophobic obsession and sexual pessimism reminiscent of certain Leonard Cohen lyrics. The intuitive genius detective is the role Harvey Keitel was born for, and this isn’t the first time he’s filled it, or the last. Anyway, he’s just about gotten Linden to confess when Milena’s husband appears at the door. More bad timing. She’s alive, and will recover.

I like how the art references in the film hang together. For instance, we see Milena reading The Sheltering Sky, and later we see her with Linden on vacation in Morocco, which apparently was their last happy time. This is where he made the mistake of talking about marriage, which left her completely unimpressed. As he waits for her to die, he plays a record of Moroccan music instantly recognizable as the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Which is ironic, because this is supposed to be healing music. Maybe that’s why Milena survives the drug-induced coma. You’d think the professor would be smart enough not to play the wrong kind of music to die by.

So Linden gets away with attempted murder, and loses Milena of course. There’s a flash-forward to a future scene, when they’re both back in their own country. She gets out of a cab, he gets into a cab. He had asked her to return to the States with him, as his wife. Instead, their only meeting is accidental and brief, and she looks at him with hatred.

*These lines, incidentally also figure in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, where the characters initials (like the author’s) are LGD (for Lineaments of Gratified Desire, of course.)

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inserts1

Hollywood, the Thirties: a washed-up former movie director, referred to as the Boy Wonder (Richard Dreyfuss), is reduced to making pornographic short films in his about-to-be-condemned rented mansion. His stars are Harlene, a wisecracking flapper par excellence who supports herself by waitressing and her habit by actressing, and Rex, a stupid and egotistical no-talent whose sideline is grave-digging. In the midst of the day’s shooting, producer Big Mac arrives; since he is paying the bills he can’t be thrown off the set. With Mac is a woman he introduces as his “fiancée – maybe”, Miss Cathy Cake. Mac, as usual, has brought Harlene’s paycheck in the form of a packet of white powder. This time, she overdoses, and while Mac (Bob Hoskins) and Rex (Stephen Davies) are away disposing of the body, Cathy Cake undertakes to seduce the supposedly impotent (owing to the failure of his career, and his massive intake of alcohol) Boy Wonder.

inserts2

This intricately structured film, written and directed by John Byrum, is both an allegorical representation of the film industry and an extended metaphor in which each character is an archetype, portraying the various ways in which individuals relate to Art with a capital A.

Harlene (Veronica Cartwright) represents the artist of real but abused talent. Despite her junk habit she is a professional – out of her dress and ready to start work the minute she arrives; listening intently as the Boy Wonder explains the purpose of a shot; getting it on the first take – even Big Mac recognizes that she is a “good little worker.”

Harlene’s affair with the Boy Wonder is part of their shared past. Refusing to believe that he can’t or won’t resume it, she gently tries to arouse him, which he tolerates up to a point but finally, patience exhausted, dumps her from his lap onto the floor. Her expression at that moment is worth the price of admission.

She is also a clown. When the wind-up camera grinds to a halt, destroying an intense scene, she rips her slip open and makes a ridiculous face to distract the director from his exasperation at having to rewind. Of the two women Harlene is by far the more sympathetic character: loving, generous, supportive, naïve, spontaneous, a little dumb. Her honesty, her humor and openness, her already anachronistic flapper attire and giddy ways, are all endearing. Although worldly-wise on the surface, she is essentially an innocent with the fabled heart of gold.

Cathy Cake (Jessica Harper), on the other hand, is dangerous and weird, a pasty-faced caricature of innocence, a bisque doll who plays the lady while casting sidelong glances at Rex’s crotch.

Cathy’s coy ways disguise her twisted motivations and insidious intent. Although she aspires to be an actress, she realizes her total lack of talent and creativity, admitting that her liaison with Big Mac is a stratagem designed to bring her the opportunities that her own efforts cannot. But this ambition to be in the movies can be furthered at the same time as her new goal: once she learns that the Boy Wonder is theoretically incapable of sexual relations, she sets out to get him into bed. She proposes to meet the challenge of reawakening his desire if he, in exchange, will put her in front of the camera and take on the much more daunting challenge of teaching her “to be great.” The longest sequence of the film consists of her amazing relentless campaign to this end.

Cathy has already demonstrated plenty of what may be termed psychic vampirism: she wanted to go watch Harlene shoot up; when the director was arguing with Big Mac she watched them as if a spectator at a tennis match. She breaks the Boy Wonder down by digging at his feelings for Harlene, his doubts about himself as a creative artist, his agoraphobia, and every other weak spot she can detect in him. Just when all this psychological probing gets to be too much, Cathy switches tactics and displays a dazzling array of manipulative and exploitive ploys. The ultimate irony of Cathy Cake is that she is indeed a superb and inspired actress – everywhere but in front of the camera.

Eventually Cathy succeeds in gaining the Boy Wonder’s confidence, and his body, along with causing a painful misunderstanding, and a lot of trouble for them both on Big Mac’s return. Even in the heat of passion she is true to her vampire nature – when the Boy Wonder wants to nuzzle and kiss, she pushes his head back in order to observe his face in the flushed and vulnerable erotic state. Her quintessential line, repeated several times throughout the film, is, “I want to see it all.” Her zombie-like appearance during the first scene was exactly right: she is an example of intelligence and curiosity with no ruling consciousness; out of control, like some monstrous child. Cathy’s outstanding trait is this half-voyeuristic, half-vampiristic need to feed on the pain of others. Archetypally, she is the Fan: this quality of being an emotion junkie is what going to the movies is all about.

Related:
the Inserts poster

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silk

It’s set in France in the 1800s, when Japan was, to Europeans, a closed and forbidden society. Michael Pitt is Herve’ Joncour, who goes on a business trip to Japan to get silkworm eggs, leaving wife Helene behind.

It’s a long, grueling trip that takes months, and at the end he meets a beguiling woman, known only as “the girl,” who just happens to belong to the local warlord. She comes on to him in a very genteel way. During the tea ceremony, she takes his cup and turns it around so her lips will touch the side so recently touched by his lips, and drinks from it.

On a second trip to Japan, he finds “the girl” bathing in the hot springs with her owner, and leaves his glove on her pile of clothing as a token. Another expatriate tells Herve’ that the object of his desire is rumored not to be Japanese, a bit of information that doesn’t seem to have a darn thing to do with the plot, such as it is.

I may be the only viewer of this movie who realizes it, but Herve’ does not make it with “the girl”. The Oriental beauty with whom he is obsessed is the one in the blue kimono. In a wordless little ceremony, she presents to him a different woman, the one in the yellow kimono. Why? Maybe her master told her to do it, to slake the foreigner’s lust and get his mind off the main concubine. Or maybe it’s her own idea. The price she would pay for seducing Herve’ would be too high – like probably her life – but she wants to give him some satisfaction, so he can close his eyes and pretend it’s her, or something. “The girl” gives him the woman in yellow to play with, then sits around in another room looking profoundly unhappy about it. I don’t know what transpired in the novel the movie was based on, but on film, Herve’ and “the girl” don’t make a carnal connection.

The sex is very lovely and romantic, oh yeah, and if I wanted to fantasize about how they do it in Japan, better this than In the Realm of the Senses with all the strangling. Of course, Japan is probably just like anywhere else – some do it one way, and others do it other ways.

Herve’ goes home again, and although he and his wife Helene want to have a child, we are shown a sexual transaction that is utilitarian on his part, and irritating to her. Word comes of chaos in Japan, and Herve’s business partner wants him to go somewhere else instead, like maybe China, for the next shipment of silkworm eggs. But Herve’ is a man with a mission. Another long and difficult journey back to Japan, and he finds the village in smoking ruins. “This time it really was the end of the world.”

He brings back eggs but they die, and everyone in town is going broke, so he hires them to build the formal garden his wife Helene has always dreamed of. Then he gets a long letter, ostensibly from Japan. Helene dies. He goes to see the brothel keeper, a Japanese woman who usually does his translation for him, and it turns out to be a lyrical love letter. But – it was the madam who wrote the letter, taking dictation from none other than Helene. Who is now dead, so Herve’ must suffer remorse over disregarding her great love. This really rings false. In that time and that society, how would a classy lady like Helene, a teacher with a rich husband, even be acquainted with the proprietor of a whorehouse? Wouldn’t happen.

Then we’ve got gorgeous shots of Helene lolling about in the ocean – just like Ted and Venus and a hundred other movies. Fooey.

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in-the-realm

It’s easy to see why this film is talked about wherever horny cinemaphiles gather. My goodness, what these folks get up to. In the Realm of the Senses is a real f*ckathon complete with dangerous games, and I bet it’s the first erotic film that involves a 68-year-old woman as one of the participants. And these people are screwing to music that sounds a little too much like Yoko Ono.

The guy lights a cigarette while the woman is copping his joint. This seems rather cavalier and disrespectful. But at the end, he lets her strangle him to death and cut off his dick, so I guess it’s fair.

Japanese fiction, like that of just about any other language, includes a tradition of the “poison woman.” In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Japanese women who were actually convicted of crimes found this useful. Their memoirs and confessions constituted a very popular genre. Quite often these women were politically motivated, and used their notoriety to raise awareness of the society’s shortcomings.

In 1936 Abe Sada choked her lover to death and then removed his penis with a knife, and books by and about her became bestsellers. It was probably more about mental illness than about politics, but many commentators did find a political slant to her story and she became, for one reason or another, quite a folk-hero. She was released from prison five years after the lust murder.

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