Synopsis by Mark Deming
Jean Genet, the novelist, playwright, political activist and gadfly who became a (literal) outlaw literary hero in France, directed his first and only film in this notorious silent short subject. Set in a French prison, Un Chant D'amour explores the crushing loneliness and thwarted desires of men behind bars, as well as the sadistic impulses of the men who look after them. Two prisoners whose cells are next to one another are desperate to make contact, but the Morse code they tap on the walls and the cigarette smoke they blow through straws are as close as they can come to human interaction. As the men lose themselves in homoerotic fantasy and self gratification, a guard watches their actions though a series of peep holes, and chooses to sadistically beat one of his charges, who uses his daydreams to escape the pain. Featuring a great deal of nudity and explicit sexual content (especially for a film made in 1950), Un Chant D'amour was originally intended to be sold only among collectors of erotica, and its few public screenings in the 1950's and early 60's led to it being declared obscene in France and the United States. After standards for motion picture content became more lenient in the 1970's, the film was occasionally revived at art houses, though Genet spoke negatively of it later in his life.