Natalie Pearson takes a look at the latest in a string of cult screenings at FACT and finds alternative programming can pay…

FACT opened its doors to the weird and wonderful Eurotrash film season this winter. The programme, working in partnership with the University of Liverpool’s School of Modern Languages, included; Belle de Jour (Luis Bunuel, 1967), Inferno (Dario Argento, 1980), Labyrinth of Passion (Pedro Almodovar, 1982) and Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982).  They each (handily) featured thought-provoking introductions from UoL lecturers.

Bunuel kicked off proceedings with Belle de Jour, which details the life of a woman who spends her days as a prostitute whilst her husband works. Known as the founder of surrealist cinema, Bunuel made his directing debut with Salvador Dali, blowing minds (and turning stomachs) with the now infamous eye slicing scene of Un Chien Andalou in 1929. Belle de Jour fuses together the real and the imaginary, mirrored in the conflict between Severine’s (Catherine Deneuve) love for her husband, her frustrated sexual abstinence within their marriage and acting out her masochistic fantasies with clients at a brothel during the day (the title of the movie translates as daylight beauty).

Dario Argento moved the season along with the Italian supernatural horror Inferno (pictured). The most striking element of this film, as reiterated by lecturer Dr. Marco Paoli, is that Argento chooses a non-linear approach where the plot is irrelevant; and form, without doubt, trumps content. On its release in 1980, it was slated; critics labelling it as trash due to the bad acting and lack of plot. Fast forward to the modern day this cinematic experience is a must-see for any horror aficionado. The lighting, camera angles and special effects create a dream-like feel and a sense of fear within the audience, suspense slowly dragged out from scene to scene. The lighting is an inspired, atmospheric part of the cinematography, with dark blues, purples and reds whipping up our sense of apprehension. The movie is full of what we now consider clichéd horror connotations – severe lighting, shadows, dark and winding hallways, heavy rain, curtains blowing in the wind and mirrors –  all making Inferno a horrific treat for the eyes.

“Throw in some test tube babies, terrorism, and taboo sexual content and you begin to get the picture”

The penultimate film of the season, Labyrinth of Passion, was made on such a shoe string budget that Almodovar resorted to using his friends as cast members. The result is an enjoyably ridiculous Spanish comedy. The humour begins from the onset with a nymphomaniac pop star – the ludicrously named Sexilia – who falls in love with a middle-Eastern prince. Sexilia, Sexi to her mates, is a member of an all female rock band (what else?) and the daughter of a twisted gynaecologist. Throw in some test tube babies, terrorism, and taboo sexual content and you begin to get the picture. The opening shot shows Sexi staring at various men’s crotches on a busy street, setting the film’s tone and signposting her sexual appetite. This film is firmly positioned within the new democratic Spain, Almodovar embracing the spirit of the punk movement of ‘Madrid Movida’ between 1977 and 1983. Labyrinth depicts a hedonistic epoch, during a time when Franco’s dictatorship had weakened its stranglehold on Spain’s cultural landscape. Almodovar barely holds back – this screwball comedy has it all: love, sex, drugs, terrorists, cross-dressing and everything in between.

Querelle wraps the season up. Adapted from the novel by Jean Genet, it tells the tale of the sailor of the title arriving in Brest and going to a whorehouse, where his brother Robert is the lover of married landlady, Lysiane. Querelle announces he wants to sleep with Lysiane, knowing he has to throw dice with her husband, Nono. Querelle deliberately loses, avoiding the winning of Lysiane, instead having anal sex with Nono. Though at times incoherent, the film is a philosophical look into the dark psyche of Querelle where affection, submission, brutality and tenderness all seemingly blend into one. A surreal tale of murder, sex, and Querelle’s struggle between the two.

Curator Omar Kholeif explained he chose these films to disprove the misconception that ‘this type of film’ is only for a hi-brow, bourgeois audience. While each is coded, nuanced and subtle, they sum up the breadth of European cinema, from the exploitation Mondo cinema (Labyrinth of Passion) to over-the-top melodrama (Querelle).

With these screenings, FACT have demonstrated their on-going commitment to the Liverpool cinephile, providing a different perspective on European cinema and an opportunity to see movies rarely on general release. It was also encouraging from the turn-out that this kind of programming has a real audience in the city; we look forward with anticipation to the next in FACT’s alternative strand of film offerings.

Natalie Pearson

Posted on 23/12/2011 by thedoublenegative