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The Criterion Collection presents
Sweet Movie (1974)

"Sugar is dangerous."
- Captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: June 19, 2007

Stars: Carole Laure, Pierre Clementi, Anna Prucnal
Other Stars: Sami Frey, Jane Mallet, Otto Muehl, Marpessa Dawn, Roy Callender, John Vernon
Director: Dusan Makavejev

Manufacturer: Criterion Post
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (explicit nudity, sexuality, bodily functions)
Run Time: 01h:38m:08s
Release Date: June 19, 2007
UPC: 715515024327
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+AB B

DVD Review

Avant-garde filmmaker Dusan Makavejev made a splash in 1971 with his WR: Mysteries of the Organism, with its optimistic celebration of sexuality and the hope of a libidinous, peaceful future, a notion much in keeping with the sentiments of Woodstock and the hippie movement. But by 1974 the positive vibes had dissipated, leaving a vacuum for the possibility of hope. Makavejev's followup picture, a French/Canadian production, addresses some of what went wrong, mixed with political satire and frequently horrific imagery. The result is one of the most notorious pictures ever made, which managed to be banned in nearly every country in which it played.

Although Makavejev plays around with avant-garde structure at times, the picture is at least narratively a rather straightforward picaresque series of sexual misadventures surrounding its main character, Miss World 1984 (Carole Laure). In a series of relationships she experiences sexuality in a very wide variety. She starts off as a mere commodity for Mr. Dollars (character actor John Vernon), a Texas oilman determined to save time through marriage since time is money. She next experiences sex as a victim of the musclebound servant Jeremiah Muscle (Roy Callender), who beats and rapes her, then stuffs her in a suitcase. Somehow that suitcase winds up with El Macho (Sami Frey) and his mariachi band, and Miss World experiences passion as she becomes overwhelmed with passion for him, leading to sex atop the Eiffel Tower.

Things become more complex as she falls into the hands of the floating commune led by Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), a prostitute forbidden to dwell on land, simultaneously a fortuitous symbol of the film itself. Condemned to remain afloat with her band of freakish followers, Planeta becomes involved with a sailor from the Battleship Potemkin (Pierre Clementi), indoctrinating him in her communal theories of pleasure, sweets and pain. A half-comatose Miss World becomes a participant in a bizarre orgy of bodily functions that served as inspiration for Pasolini's Salo and perhaps Peter Greenaway, as food, feces, vomit and urine mix with blood and tears in a hellish communion that will not easily be forgotten. Betrayed by communism, Miss World finally turns to sex as a commercial prospect, as she is filmed being covered in chocolate sauce. But unlike her initial situation, here she controls the sex, driving the eroticism even though the director fancies that he is the one in charge.

Despite the constant sexuality and shock value, few scenes are actually erotic. The finale in the chocolate is one, and the other occurs at the height of the otherwise ghastly orgy sequence. After a grotesque castration dumbshow featuring an enormous false penis being hacked to bits, Miss World finally stirs from her zombie-like state, caressing a real, tiny and flaccid penis against her cheek, teasing the audience as she stares directly into the camera, as if reading our dirty minds.

Makavejev has more on his mind than just sex, however. He spends a good deal of time on political satire. Some, like the Texas oilman sequence, is heavy-handed and cartoonish (though his vision of 1984 America and its sexual double standards, with the funding of the Chastity Belt Foundation, quite presciently anticipates Reaganite America). More fierce is his criticism of the Soviet denial of the Katyn Forest massacre, boldly using Nazi footage of the exhumations, then frequently disparaged as mere propaganda but now known to be the truth, to accuse the Russians of genocidal war crimes.

It must be said that Criterion is being equally bold in finally releasing Sweet Movie on DVD; it remains banned in numerous countries, and given the lengthy sequence of Anna Planeta's sexualizing and seduction of prepubescent boys, it may well run into the same legal problems that The Tin Drum faced for similar (but far less explicit) material. While Sweet Movie can be hard to take, those who are interested would be well advised to obtain a copy quickly, before it's suppressed yet again.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Makavejev supervised the transfer, and he must be pleased with the result. The source looks completely flawless, and the transfer is excellent. Color is first-rate, with very good detail and deep, rich black levels. It's very attractively rendered, with grain structure being filmlike throughout. Texture and immediacy are vital to the movie's impact, and it comes across like a two-by-four to the head, from Anna Planeta's bed made of sugar to the vomitous orgy of bodily excretions.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono track is predominately in English, though some of the dialogue aboard the boat is subtitled. It's quite clean, if rather unremarkable otherwise. Low bass is a bit lacking. Dialogue is clear enough, and the score has a reasonable presence for its era.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Although the disc doesn't quite get the full-blown Criterion treatment, there are several extras of interest. Makavejev discusses the film in a 2006 interview with frequent Criterion contributor Peter Cowie (22m:29s). He provides some guidance as to what he was trying to accomplish, as well as explaining his preparations for the film and his difficulties in making it and the controversies that followed. Film professor Dina Iordanova provides more context for the picture in a documentary (20m:26s) that emphasizes Makavejev as an outsider to both the East and West at the height of the cold war, as well as the importance of the Katyn Forest sequences. Finally, Prucnall appears in a sequence (4m:42s) from 1979 French television, discussing how appearing in the picture resulted in her being banned from Poland for years. She also sings a song from the movie, with lyrics written in Italian by Pasolini, who championed the picture.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A darkly comic look at 1970s sexuality, with a hard political edge and often flat out disgusting scenes, the transfer is gorgeous and there are some useful extras to put its appalling imagery in context.

 


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