Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Really Immature Femme?

This is a movie review of a film you've never seen. Don't worry: it's absolutely not important that I'm right about the movie. If I am or I am not will make no difference to whether or not you should see it, and the only way you can see it is by going to a dimly flourescently lit video store or belonging to Netflix. The film du femme is "A Real Young Girl" ("Une Vraie Jeune Fille") written and directed by Catherine Breillat.

So, why write about a suppressed and virtually unknown French film? Well, imagine the most unrealistically gynephobic voice from The Vagina Monologues and imagine that voice got over the class consciousness and was given a 16 mm film camera and a cast and crew. Also imagine that, instead of being a poor or bourgeoise woman of the usual sort, she went to the Sorbonne around 1971 and got a head full of ecrit feminine and, amazingly, believed it. Astonishing, stretching credulity, I know, but you have to imagine the combination of "writing is done by the vulva" with "I hate my vagina" and keep all the narcissism that leads to a one-woman show. You then have to put all of that into the amazingly cold and treacherous medium of film and ... wait until you hear this ... expect people to think the result is deeply real.

The star of the film is a very, very beautiful young lady whose other films are confined to pornography of the lighter sort. All the men show their penises, and pretty much all of the women show their mons veneris, while our heroine is inserted, opened, and given metonymic close ups. Remember: this is feminism. This is truth. Essentially, our heroine loves disgusting things because she disgusts herself, even as she desires the disgusting things that disgust her, and she is compelled to sitting wrong way on the potty, denying would-be lesbian lovers, and rejecting the boys she finds arousing because of her disgust, while she has to look longingly at her father's inappropriate genital display because it's disgusting. She's a filthy whore, her mother tells her, and so she feels ashamed and desirous of shame and being violated by men who simply don't give a f....

Haven't we heard this story before, and didn't we find it unconvincing? Didn't it seem like hyperbole already? What's worse is that this compulsion to document is doubly complicit. On the one hand, the author (of the "novel," Breillat, when there might be six pages of dialog in the whole movie...but dialog isn't something she's interested in, as that involves other people) is inflicting her vision on an actress and some actors, so, if she's out to tell her personal story of shame and nymphomania, she's making someone else go through it. On the other hand, the moment you film a woman's vagina being dressed in earthworms, you have committed pornography. If there is supposed to be some healing process back there, some way that the director is getting over her bad upbringing and shame by pictorializing it, then she's picking a medium in which she must, by the very nature of it, do exactly as she complains: expose her genitalia to express her revulsion of it, become a pornographer to complain about pornography. It's chowderheaded in the extreme, or else it's smugly recidivous. This is pornography from Andrea Dworkin, psychotherapy from Mark Foley, a reformation of manners from Heidi Fleiss.

If you, personally, do not get along with your naughty bits, that's a matter for the couch. Filming it and enacting it means that you have some hope or some doom to seek. Later on, Breillat would continue her pornography as protest with Romance (which is even duller and more disconnected from its own medium than A Real Young Girl is, as its central conceit is that a woman is only interested in a man who is gay/impotent with her, while she goes about getting raped and accosted and whipped in sadomasochism and provides us with exceptionally leaden monologs about her vagina), and there a baby and the timely death of its father would prove to cure the problems.

I know I'm doing nothing to get you interested in these films, and I'm not trying to. Instead, I'm thinking about the powerful mystery of sex. It is a powerful mystery, because we make it one. Give a person enough time, and he or she will become convinced that accidents of birth explain everything, that the root of all problems is some thing that can't quite be examined. Usually, it's parents. This is a good ticket for a while, but being a boy (when you wish you could cry at movies) or a girl (when you wish you could just charge through life without a care) will show up at some point. Being small/large, top heavy/top light, ugly/beautiful, dark/fair will explain most of your problems, if you're left alone for long enough.

The fact is that your genitals have very little to do with anything. They serve their function, or they don't, but most of the time, even if you're Wilt Chamberlain, or Agrippina the Younger, they're just minding their business and waiting for the next overfull bladder. Oh, there are all sorts of potent chemicals given off by them, and they do tend to "flash and yearn," as John Berryman said in "Dreamsong 14" (read it at the Poetry Foundation). They flash when near an object, suitable or not, and yearn for use, but they don't do a lot else. Men are lucky, in that theirs are usually in view, but then that means that they get obsessed with cyllinders and sizes and such. Women need a step ladder and a mirror and seem to be inhabited by a cranky stranger, and that can lead to all of this mystification and worry and hatred directed at a not much at all.

Sex (not gender, which is appropriately complained of by everyone...even the chick magnet and party girl) is elusive enough and mercurial enough and deeply seated enough to act as a great locus of problems. Why not, after all?

The problem is that you only have a 1:2 choice, and every single thing you suffer from, being male or female, is something that around half the population suffers from. You're not the first one. You're not the proper spokesperson. It's normal. It's normally difficult, normally unsatisfactory, normally obvious and normally obscure. If you let it get to the point where you think your personality, much less your writing, criticism, and speech, are determined by this one extrusion or recession of embryology, I can only draw one conclusion: you're bored. You obviously need a real enemy or friend.

Given how many victims of violence there are, how many starving, how many tortured, how many disappeared, how many discriminated against, how many fattened, how many derided, how many bullied, how many kicked out of home, how many preyed upon by bankers, how many shipped out of the country, how many jobless, how many addicted, how many leading anonymous lives, how many abused in elder care, what the hell are you doing worrying about how much you hate your pee-pee?

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