Sweet Movie (1974)

Genres - Comedy, Avant-garde / Experimental  |   Sub-Genres - Political Satire, Satire  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - Canada, France  |  
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To refer to Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie as "one of the most provocative motion pictures ever made" is accurate in the most literal sense: the film's entire purpose appears to be provocation of the viewer. And yet, it never falls into the trap of exploitation. It rests on a well-defined and valid idea: the Reichian observation that contemporary culture and mass media have deadened and desensitized mass audiences to the point of near-catatonia. Guided by this belief, Makavejev uses shock cuts and startling juxtapositions to short-circuit preconditioned responses in the very same way (for example) that stage director Andre Gregory once planned to, when he wanted to amplify the meaning of The Bacchae for Yale viewers by having them pass around an actual severed human head during the production. As a result, everything that we see onscreen in Sweet Movie is brutally visceral, from the image of Mr. Kapital (John Vernon) urinating on his shocked bride with an enormous gold-plated phallus, to the on-camera defecation and regurgitation of the Otto Muehl commune members, to shots of Anna Prucnal's character stabbing her naked lover through the heart amid a vat of sugar. This sort of disorientation works - seldom has there been a film so physically unsettling. One of the interesting side-effects is that it serves as a kind of litmus test for each viewer's sensitivity - what one finds appalling, another may not. (This viewer found most of it surprisingly tolerable, but had to draw the line at the black-and-white Nazi archival footage of "baby gymnastics"). For all of its audacity, Sweet Movie is often blisteringly funny, in sequences such as the urination bit, where Makavejev places Kapital's nutcase mother ("Sock it to me, baby!") and a swaying musical ensemble in the background during the defilement. Curiously, the interpolation of extreme humor works to the picture's great advantage, by preventing it from becoming unwatchably offensive; the belly laughs (like the beautiful Eastern European pop songs that fill the soundtrack) tend to undercut the shocks - mollifying the material and making it slightly more palatable. Even with the comedy to help it go down more easily, though, Sweet Movie still adds up to an indelible experience; those viewers who wish to drive it out of their minds won't be able to. Many detest this picture - it prompted mass walkouts when it screened at Cannes and has been federally banned in many countries - yet adventurous viewers with strong stomachs should give it a serious look. Love it or hate it, though, one can't help but admire the visionary Makavejev for pushing the medium as far as he possibly could, and doing so with a stunningly graceful technique.