Here's another cheery film. This time the source of jubilation is
holocaust survivor guilt. The story takes place in 1993 and Jacqueline
Bisset stars as an aging Jewish mother who compromised herself during her
stay at a WW2 concentration camp, exchanging - well, whatever was
necessary - to stay alive. In the present, she torments herself for the
guilt she feels about having had a comfortable life while her friends all
died around her, all because she was willing to become the concubine of a
sadistic Nazi who specialized in experimental surgery. She also torments
everyone around her with arrogant rages.
She married a weakling and, as you might expect, raised two sons with
serious emotional problems. The older is a misogynist who exploits women
in many ways, personal and professional, and whose sex life consists of
S&M. The younger son is an introverted pianist who is virtually incapable
of human contact, and conducts his own sex life vicariously through his
In some hands this premise might have had the potential to deliver an
Oscar-winning drama, or at least that potential might have existed if some
of the ideas were not already overworked to the point of being hackneyed.
For example, several elements in this film, including some of the mother's
secrets portrayed in the 1993 sequences, evoke memories of The Night
Porter. In the hands of this auteur, however, the film comes off as not
merely a copycat, but as having copied something which was not a very good
idea to begin with, thus making the entire project seem like an exploitive
exercise in Holocaust Grand Guignol. There are some bloody surgery scenes
intercut with sex scenes, and also some rough sex of the non-surgical
variety. Making matters worse, the dialogue is artificial, like something
out of a 1930's stage play.
After its Sundance debut it just more or less disappeared for 18 months
before arriving quietly on home media. That is an indication of its total
lack of commercial appeal, and the ultimate statement on its artistic
appeal is that it was poorly received at Sundance in 2008. Think about
that - the Sundance crowd turning their manicured thumbs down on a
Holocaust movie - and you'll think twice before spending any time on it.
On the other hand, it does allow you to experience all the depression
and despair and pretentiousness of an "art" film with none of that actual
pesky art or originality to get in the way.
If that's your bag, man.