Dir.: Adina Pintilie; Cast: Laura Benson, Tomas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Adina Pintilie, Hanna Hoffman, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova; Romania/Germany/France/Bulgaria/Czech Republic, 2018, 123 min.
Written, directed and edited by first time feature filmmaker Adina Pintilie, this surprise winner of the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival has split critics and audiences alike. The key to the mis/understanding of this fictional sex-based documentary may lie in Pintilie’s own background. At 38, she is the director of the Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival (BIEFF). Her award-winning short films fall into the category of “Fine Art” documentaries.
In this unique film the focus is Laura Benson and her exploration, through sexual therapy, of her deep-held anger and frustration. Pintilie does away with the fourth wall, participating both behind and in front of camera. The colour white dominates giving the feature a documentary feel, only disrupted by the soundtrack which destroys the illusion of realism, although the naturalistic performances make us feel like voyeurs in a candid and highly intimate sexual interaction. This is an uncomfortable film to watch. Many may find the degree of physical and emotional oversharing deeply off-putting,
Laura visits a tattooed male prostitute who undresses for her and later masturbates. Laura looks on in barely disguised lust, and later smells his sperm in the bed. Then Laura meets Hanna Hoffman, a transsexual prostitute who also doubles up as Sex-Therapist. Hanna playfully romps on the bed, talking about her breasts who are named Lilo and Gusti, the former being the more sensitive one. She also fondles her penis through a pair of Y-fronts. Hanna is also involved in music and appreciates Brahms, like Laura’s hospitalised father. In a clinic two mwn who feel let down by their bodies: Christian Bayerlain, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and is visited by Tudor (Lemarquis), who has been completely hairless since the age of 13, due to Alopecia Universalis. Tudor (if I had a choice, I would choose not to have hair, because it’s just another form of disguise”) is still in love with his ex-girl-friend (Chichikova), whom he sometimes stalks at night.
Ironically, Christian’s penis is one of the parts of his body which functions perfectly, and he is keen on sex, because before it makes him feel more than just “a brain, floating around with no body”. After meeting an other sex-therapist (Love), who brings out in predilection for strong physical interactions, suddenly asks the director to change places with her. Pintilie acquiesces, admitting “that this a tough place to be in. I feel lots of fear, of being looked at, judged. When you screamed with anger, I knew the feeling very well.” To which Laura answers “Did I scream for you?”.
The only criticism here is a rather superfluous scene in a sex club where some of the participants meet. Otherwise Pintilie stays the course in this permanently questioning roleplay of transference and projection: like an orthodox Freudian, she claims sex to be the the centre of our lives. Sex being influenced by our hopes and denials – foremost, of our past, parental and otherwise. There is no escape, and Pintilie is brave enough to join the fray in a film that teeters of the brink of but never oversteps the mark. Where the demarcation lines of documentary and fiction are, is never revealed. But the director, with the help of DoP George Chiper-Lillemark – who punctiliously clinical images give the impression of ongoing scientific research in some futuristic laboratory – succeeds in bringing in bringing Laura’s odyssey to a successful, surprising and moving conclusion. AS
BERLINALE GOLDEN BEAR WINNER 2018 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2018