Canada / France / West Germany, 1974
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
Source Facets Video VHS
Explicit sexual nudity is the vocabulary of ‘70s cinema politics, or so it would seem in regard to two highly notorious films of the era: Vilgot Sjöman’s revolutionary I am Curious — Yellow (released domestically in 1969) and, to a much greater extent, Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie. This shared trait in the films, and in notable others of the early seventies, prompts the thought that sex is of some utility in forwarding politics. The thought seems necessary in justifying the coupling of sex and politics, and it is one I cannot subscribe to in discussing Sweet Movie. (I do, in slight hypocrisy, recommend Sjöman’s comparatively chaste effort.)
In a competition for “the most desirable, prominent, and well-preserved virgins,” a doctor examines women’s bodies in close-up. With the soon-to-be heralded contestant sprawled before him, his eyes widen in appreciation, and his face is illuminated by ethereal light. This is not a visual gesture of sexual lust, but of some desire for cleanliness. As evidence, the winner marries an oil tycoon, who carefully sanitizes her on their wedding night, even including urination in his careful procedure. Urination, incidentally, is this film’s money shot, of which it contains many.
There is a stark contrast to this interest in purity in Sweet Movie’s second, more surreal narrative. A woman navigates a ship through harbors in Amsterdam with the gigantic, monolithic face of Karl Marx mounted on its bow. She is pursued ashore by a sailor. They go at it in sporadic venues, conclusively in bed of sugar.
Sweet Movie certainly has varied political aims, but the message is hindered by graphic practices (including a collectively masturbatory banquet in which every human excretion is exhibited.) and sex. It may not be pornographic — Makavajev’s intent is not to arouse — but it is often too offensive (which I presume is the intent) to watch. Additionally, the film intersperses documentary footage of Holocaust grave excavations throughout, in order to lend its politics some ballast. The footage tangibly effective, and mocked in the film’s staging of violence — the horror of the factual scenario is plagiarized and exploited.
Makavejev’s least hindered contention comes in a closing scene with the heralded virgin in a vat of chocolate, a filmed scenario for an advertisement. In this satirical manner, an association is affirmed between sex and the product. Such integrity is exampled numerously in contemporary advertising, and Makavejev may boast the most explicitly polar example. It is just to our chagrin that the product is chocolate.