SWEET MOVIE (director/writer: Dusan Makavejev; cinematographer: Pierre L’homme; editor: Yann Dedet; music: Manos Hadjidakis; cast: Carole Laure (Miss Canada/Miss World 1984), Pierre Clémenti (Sailor from the Potemkin), Anna Prucnal (Captain Anna Planeta), Sami Frey (El Macho), Jane Mallet (Chastity Belt Lady), Marpessa Dawn (Mama Communa), Roy Callender (Jeremiah Muscle), John Vernon (Mr. Kapital), Leonide (The Mouse), Otto Muehl and members of the Therapy-Commune of Vienna (Themselves); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Vincent Maile; The Criterion Collection; 1974-Canada/France/West Germany)-in English and French with English subtitles)
“An onslaught of images that are calculated to arouse the viewer to awaken from his slumber.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Counterculture Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev (“Montenegro”/”Innocence Unprotected”/”The Coca-Cola Kid”) directs arguably his second greatest film, after WR: Mysteries of the Organism. In a more indirect way, he takes up the troubled and controversial psychoanalyst Reich’s orgone therapy and fight for freedom against the establishment suppressors. The film offered no credit for screenwriter, as Makavejev says he doesn’t trust words and did not want to be listed as writer in the screen credits. He wrote the script supposedly as he went along with the filming. Makavejev offers an onslaught of images that are calculated to arouse the viewer to awaken from his slumber. It’s the filmmaker’s hope to awaken a call for art and sex in life to counter mankind’s ‘leading lives of quiet desperation’ (Thoreau). The provocateur filmmaker gleefully breaks the rules of cinema and aims to rub his weird satire in people’s faces, and succeeds in doing just that. All the vulgarity, shocks, sicko sight gags, outlandish sex, attacks on Communism and capitalism, and many other disgusting displays of anti-social behavior either turned off the viewer or gained a cult follower. It’s a mischievous treatment of the world, one that relishes being uncouth and offensive. But there’s something there that’s not exploitative or chintzy, and that is the filmmaker’s strong political and artistic stand to jolt the lazy viewer from their usual lethargy and bad filmmaking habits that crush creativity. For some viewers, this is an eye-opening subversive experience. For others, seeing only its perverse side, it’s a film with no redeeming social value. Take your pick, viewers seem to lineup on either side.
It’s set in 1984, in the future. The Chastity Belt Lady (Jane Mallet) runs a contest to select a virgin bride for a cartoonish American oil tycoon named Mr. Kapital (John Vernon), who is the richest person in the world. The bride chosen is the wide-eyed Miss Canada (Carole Laure), whose virginity is certified by a gynecological examination. On their wedding night, the groom sports a gold-plated penis and an unreal fear of a sexual transmitted disease. After she rejects his advances, Mr. Kapital has her stuffed in a suitcase and sent to Paris. She winds up at the Eiffel Tower and has a quickie with Spanish singer El Macho (Sami Frey). The fuck has them lumped together, but the liberated woman separates and hooks up with a radical free-love commune (a Reich-inspired one featuring Otto Muehl and members of the Therapy-Commune of Vienna), that smear food on each other, shit, piss, vomit, fuck and do everything vile out in the open. The police will violently arrest them and Miss World will go on from there to further her career by posing for a Hustler like spread, where she’ll cover her naked body in chocolate. Miss World’s sexual liberation now allows her to indulge in hedonism for profit.
Meanwhile, the SS Survival, with a large image of Karl Marx on its prow, is heading down an Amsterdam canal. Its passengers are mainly children and the cargo is sugar and candy. The revolutionary survivor and whore captain, Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal, Polish actress), has just picked up a bike-riding prole Soviet sailor with the emblem of the Battleship Potemkin on his sailor’s hat and they become lovers. They screw in the sugar vat. Then for no good reason, she stabs him and he bleeds to death. But the fearless sailor just laughs off death, as if life was too sweet to have any regrets after getting such a good fuck (whereby the title is derived). The film ends with the inexplicable resurrection of the corpses of those murdered commune members who are lying on the side of the canal after the police raid.
Its themes of sex, destruction and the fleeting pleasures of life are delivered in a messy carnival like atmosphere and the Brechtian messages of epic theater is received not through dialogue but through unwieldy images. But the film, like its message, is inextinguishable. Its two most disturbing shots are of the commune’s body excesses and the even more disturbing documentary footage from the Katyn Forest massacre of exhumed corpses of Polish prisoners of war. The elite army officers, whose executions were authorized by Stalin during WW II–where in 1943 some four thousand bodies murdered by their jailers were found in a mass grave. For the earnest filmmaker, in such a world where life is cheap, we mostly dupe ourselves by trying to sweeten things like a cheat who tries to sweeten a bad deal or lovers who try to steal a few moments of bliss by making love. His films are meant to make us see the need to liberate ourselves from the deadly traps we have fallen into when viewing the world’s stage, and is not adverse of pushing his points across through shock therapy. The debate is out there whether this pic does the trick it claims to or not. But for my money, it’s inspired filmmaking–but of the weirdo kind that is an acquired taste and though thought provoking makes for a sometimes unpleasant watch.
REVIEWED ON 6/23/2009 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ