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Thursday, 26 June 2014

East End Film Festival

Sadly I was only able to view two entries at this year's East End Festival - and how difference they were. The first, Hide and Seek, is a sunny and thoughtful observation about modern day society, skilfully handled by director Joanna Coates. Check out my Britflicks review here.

                       Unconventional sleeping arrangements in the country
                                                                 (Hide and Seek)

The second, to which I dragged a friend along, is Belladonna of Sadness, an animated interpretation of The Sorceress, a novel from 1862 by open minded feminist Jules Michelet. The novel seems to compound the various aspects of female tragedy encountered by Michelet either on his travels or from stories overheard - from the exercising of the droit de seigneur, to condemning women to the stake as witches, often for nothing more offensive than being pretty or intelligent. The Sorceress considers witchcraft to be a form of female protest or rebellion against the patriarchal, oppressive and violent society in which the Roman Catholic Church reigned supreme, where women would sometimes engage in the use of natural drugs and poisons to offer themselves relief from both physical and emotional pain.

However, unlike the novel which is empathetic and presents a female point of view, Belladonna of Sadness presented more as the prolongued rape fantasy of a self indulgent Japanese sadist. It has to be said that the illustrations (by Kuni Fukai) are truly beautiful - all psychedelic smoke wreaths, rainbow tendrils, long feathered eyelashes and coloured ink on wet paper, but they are also unnecessarily graphic and repetitive. In addition to the many rape and orgy scenes, our heroine - the unfortunate peasant, Jeanne, is never clothed for long. Whether she is being chased by demons through forests, or making pacts with the devil, her clothes manage to melt away at every opportunity. I am no prude, and can appreciate the naked female form as well as the next woman, but really.

The fact that at the end of the film director, Eiichi Yamamoto elbowed in an image of Joan of Arc in some kind of awkward attempt to show that Belladonna of Sadness has some kind underlying moral, or political point, was faintly insulting. A case of, mate we've already watched 90 minutes of your mental porn collection - do me a favour. Apparently the film was close to the book in terms of dialogue (no subtitles though, nice one), but as mentioned, the merit of the novel was totally lost in the excess of what one reviewer has rightly described as "crass misogyny". 

Had the film been half as long, less brutal and less rapey then I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it. That said I would have thought that the East End Film Festival could have done something new with this showing and say, found someone to translate the Japanese so that the packed audience could benefit from a bit of comprehension. As a non-Japanese speaker I have to be tentative in my criticism - perhaps the dialogue would have made a real difference to watching the heroine be repeatedly split in two (sorry to be graphic, but there it is). Alas, we will never know. My friend and I both left with a headache and a feeling that our whole gender had been violated. The live score performed by Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs may have been excellent, but it was too loud for the acoustics of the Red Gallery and so sadly that too did not leave me with a favourable impression. 

Both Belladonna and Hide and Seek show group sex, a fair amount of naked flesh and an alternative lifestyle chosen as a sort of protest against existing society. Both films are notable for some beautiful imagery, but whereas one manages to be thought provoking, sunny and sensual, the other lacks depth and appeared to me as a mere onslaught on the senses.