Anatomy of Hell

Anatomy of Hell (2004)
★★ / ★★★★

A woman (Amira Casar) is discovered by a man (Rocco Siffredi) cutting her wrists in the restroom of a gay bar. After he takes her to a clinic to get her self-inflicted wounds taken care of, she expresses her opinion that men hold a great fear and hatred of female sexuality. She wishes to explore this matter. She tells the stranger that she is willing to pay him to watch her during her most private moments. There is no need to touch her; he only has to observe. If he likes what he sees, he is welcome to join her in bed.

Based on the novel and screenplay by Catherine Breillat, “Anatomie de l’enfer” is not an easy film to digest given some of its undercurrents, like hatred of men and male homosexuals, as well as sexual images that really push the boundary between art and pornography so it is a bit of a surprise to me that I was able to stick with it.

Perhaps it is because, to me, its thesis is clear: the woman of interest considers gay males as being a part of an elite brotherhood that detests women, thereby only engaging with other males sexually—what they consider to be their equal—and so she takes the man through a sort-of experiment where she can “prove” that a woman’s sexuality is so powerful, it can turn male fear or resentment, homosexual or heterosexual, toward women into something positive.

The picture is anything but conventional. The two characters do not even have names. They are as detached from one another as we are to them. Despite this, there are plenty of contrasting elements worth looking into. For instance, although penis, vagina, breasts, and anus are shown generously on screen, I did not find them erotic. These body parts are often accompanied by images that can be considered disgusting or disturbing. The way a gardening tool is used quickly comes to mind. Even more shocking is the woman’s reaction to it. Another example involves the disparity between the seemingly rich ideas inside the woman’s mind and the sparseness of her cottage house. It can be interpreted that although her thoughts are aplenty, they hold very little meaning.

At times the material attempts to reach at anything in the dark. About halfway through, it is mentioned that an ocean is both a male and female image but its elucidation is more confusing than thought-provoking. When this sort of thing happens, which occurs more than half a dozen times, it feels like the screenplay is trying too hard to come off as meaningful. There is a self-consciousness in the bold script.

Most importantly, I did not buy into the man’s newfound feelings toward the woman. What he considers to be a profound realization in terms of his relationship with women (or just the woman he spent bizarre four nights with), I interpreted as trauma. I was neither moved intellectually or emotionally nor did I feel like it was a worthwhile experience as art or pornography. Although it is propelled by extreme elements on outside, “Anatomy of Hell” seems to just coast among them.

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