Avant-garde (aka "arthouse") films really aren't something that I'm a huge fan of, and I'm also not a big fan of gay movies, although I do have to admit that I "got something in my eye" during Brokeback Mountain. Therefore, when I received a copy of Un Chant D'Amour for review purposes, I didn't have very high expectations of it. You see, the film is the sole directorial offering from novelist Jean Genet, and it was created not for mainstream release, but for the arthouse crowd: more specifically, the gay arthouse crowd. I sort of put off watching it for a couple of days, but in sticking to my pledge of "I'll review whatever people send me", I broke down and popped it into my player tonight. The results were surprising, to say the least.
Review by Chad
Added: March 09, 2007
With a running time of just under thirty minutes, this black-and-white short film focuses on two male prisoners and the cruel guard who watches over them just a little more closely than he should. The two prisoners, isolated and deprived of any human contact, begin to go mad with both lust and loneliness, and this leads to the two "interacting" with one another by way of coded knocks on the wall, talking through said wall, and - in one of the most interesting shots of the movie - sharing cigarettes through a hole in this wall. There's also plenty of mutual masturbation sessions of which the guard gets an eyeful; but instead of turning away from these acts or disciplining the men, he silently watches them and it becomes painfully obvious to us at home that he is enjoying this. When he realizes what we already know, he becomes angry at himself for these "filthy" thoughts and takes out his frustrations by beating the older of the two prisoners... but this prisoner is able to ignore the pain by fantasizing about what life would be like if he and his companion were free of both these walls and the social restrictions of their lifestyle.
Before continuing with this review, I should point out that this is a completely silent film: there's no dialogue, no subtitles, no cue cards, not even a musical score. The viewer simply watches the actions being performed, and by reading the actor's faces and body language, one is able to put their own story and reasonings behind the images on screen. Therefore, there's no true "This is what it means and this is why it's happening" explanation behind the film, and other viewers could very well come up with an entirely different explanation for the events that transpire. The synopsis written here is merely my interpretation of the film.
With that said, this was a beautiful film for both gay and straight audiences. Sure, the straight males of the audience may be put off by the rather explicit imagery - erect penises and full-blown masturbation sessions are shown in detail - but it doesn't take a genius to see that there's actually a great story to be found beneath that. Although Un Chant D'Amour was created only with collectors of gay erotica in mind, it's a film that anyone with an open mind can enjoy.
It's a shame that Jean Genet quit the movie business after only one film, because he was actually a damned fine director. Even though the film is completely silent and the entirety of the running time takes place in a mere two prison cells, the audience is never left wanting when it comes to the story. This is especially remarkable considering that all of the cast members were non-actors; in fact, one of the leading men was a barber who happened to be a friend of Genet. You couldn't tell it by their performance here, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the story is told solely through facial expressions and body language.
I have to tip my hat to any film which, while being the polar opposite of my preferred genres and sexual orientation, can still entertain me. That's the sign of a classic film, and that is exactly what Un Chant D'Amour turned out to be. 8/10.