Conspirators of Pleasure DVD
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Directed by Jan Svankmajer
Produced in 1996
Main Language - Czech with English subtitles
Pavel Novy, Petr Meissel, Barbora Hrzanova
The Czech surrealist's third feature is an 'entirely pornographic film without a single conventionally pornographic image'. It's filled with delirious, deadpan invention, says Graeme Hobbs.
In Conspirators of Pleasure, Jan Svankmajer's third feature-length film after Alice and Faust, he set out on the intriguing task of making 'an entirely pornographic film that doesn't contain a single conventionally pornographic image'. With the film's credits acknowledging the professional expertise of Leopold Sacher-Masoch, the Marquis de Sade, Sigmund Freud, Luis Buñuel, Max Ernst and Bohuslav Brouk, you just know the results will be an untrammelled investigation into the possibilities and obsessions of convulsive sexual experience.
It features six characters in search of self-gratification, whose progress we follow as they move inescapably and monomaniacally onwards to their separate climactic releases. There is the damp-palmed young man and the slatternly woman who lives in the apartment across his landing, their briskly efficient and slyly amused postwoman, a newsagent skilled in amateur electronics, an unfulfilled newsreader (the object of the newsagent's fascination) and her husband, a pilferer with an extreme sensitivity to textural sensation which he indulges in his workshop.
The protagonists share a certain knowledge - if not the precise details - of the others' practices. Not that their conspiratorial glances do anything other than send them scuttling off guiltily back into their private realms. Simply put, everyone is at it, though quite what remains open to question.
The fantasies with which they are taken on their wordless and polymorphously perverse journeys are both marvellously arbitrary and utterly precise. Various common household objects - saucepan lids and rolling pins, latex finger cots, plasterer's brushes, umbrellas - join carp, dough balls, chicken feathers and blood-filled balloons as the means to a satisfactory end. The most mundane of objects and the most innocent of transactions necessary to their acquisition are invested with the barely concealed erotic purpose in which their owners are locked.
Animation is used sparingly in this mostly live-action film to show those things otherwise impossible to show, as when the chicken fetishist and his neighbour commit various improprieties with rock and lash to effigies of the other's person, while the draw of feathers through the toes, a shaving brush in the mouth and the simultaneous tickle and bite of fur and nails on bare skin recall Svankmajer's 'tactile experiments' from the 1970s (as do the big toe-suckling carp).
At the end Svankmajer suggests that his characters' predilections are interchangeable; what remains is unquenchable private desire, and the limitlessly curious contortions of the erotic imagination to which its human inhabitants are subject.
Graeme Hobbs on 21st May 2012
Author of 276 reviews
Jan Svankmajer describes his third feature as the first entirely pornographic film that doesn't contain a single conventionally pornographic image. A film of delirious yet deadpan invention, it sees six people, aided by various household objects and some extraordinary ingenuity, realise their auto-erotic fantasies. The whole thing takes place without a line of dialogue and Svankmajer holds back the animation to show what otherwise could not be shown. A brilliantly enjoyable, if slightly melancholy, depiction of a world of fetishised desire.
Publisher: New Wave Films
Length: 82 mins
Cat No: NW036
Format: DVD Colour
Subtitles: English , French , German , Spanish