Made in Serbia

If Kevin Smith had made a documentary about the Serbian porn industry, prior to making Clerks—this would be that film.

I’m 90% certain this is a documentary, by the way. 95%.

I’m pretty sure this is real.

The premise/story is that the filmmaker Nenad Bekvalac missed his ex-girlfriend who was a stripper-turned-porn star. She’s now engaged to someone else and they live far away, but will be returning to sell their apartment. He hopes to meet up with her then and win her back.

In the meantime, Nenad has seen some local porn and he’s not impressed with the low quality—he wants to make porn of higher caliber. First he sits down and watches a lot of porn (this is what Madison Young recommends to do when preparing to make your own in order to see what works and what doesn’t so that’s not as ridiculous of a plan as it sounds).

Then he wishes to befriend the biggest name in Serbian porn, Slobodan Stankovic (pronounced Stankovich), who has a regular set of performers. All of the porn actors in Serbia work with him and won’t work with anyone else without consulting him first so Bekvalac needs to know him anyway.

Bekvalac meets up with a core group of Stankovic’s actors and then introduces the viewer to several individually, allowing us to learn more about them, why they got into the business, their background, to go along on shoots, etc.

Cast: Simeon has the sling, Erzebet is in front, Dino is second to right, Bekvalac, far right. (source)

The Serbian industry is unlike the U.S. industry. If anyone would like to nominate that at understatement of the year, I think we have a chance.

People work in order to buy food or wood for the winter. The bodies are as natural as nature can provide. There is a certain degree of… intention I suppose is the word I’m looking for, in that Stankovic knows to have his performers to open up to the camera and keep hair from blocking light. He plays video before filming to give the performers an idea of how to do what they need to do.

Featured are:

Dino—he’s new and determined to make a success of himself. We watch him go to Hungary to film a scene with an actress there.

Djurica—a bisexual young man who lives with his aunt and uncle. He’s been in the business in a variety of capacities for some time and would like to leave Serbia altogether.

Erzebet—a woman who’s also been performing in print and on video for some time. She has her husband join her in a scene during the filming of the documentary.

Simeon—a former soldier who’s achieved local notoriety due to his new profession as a popular porn actor.

There are quite a few non-simulated sex acts. No big finishes, as it were, though.

After becoming immersed in the Serbian porn scene, Bekvalac grows to prefer the low-fi aesthetic and is no longer interested in making high-quality film.

‘Low-fi’ is an accurate description for this entire documentary. Booms are in view more often than not, the crew is visible in reflections, all those sorts of things. Dino recreates conversations with people in his life about becoming a porn star with about the level of believability of an episode of Jersey Shore. (There are only a couple of scenes like this—I think they were to give context? I don’t know. Like I said—think pre-Clerks Kevin Smith.)

Bekvalac gets back in touch with his ex and books her to do a scene for his film.

If you have no plans to watch it and want to know how things turn out. He says she has a professional mask on the entire time they’re together. After they’ve done their scene he says his film stalled and he never finished it and gradually lost interest in becoming a pornographer. Wow, man. That is a lot to go through just because you wanted your ex back.

Overall, it was depressing in a way that personal stories about porn stars in the U.S. aren’t always (they can be, but many are people getting paid to do what they love.) Made in Serbia was a portrait of how a much smaller porn industry with far less financing and social support works. It was an enlightening view of a business in a part of the world I knew little about.

3/5

*Oh yes, in this week’s episode I said Serbia made a decent portion of the world’s pornography. I have absolutely no idea where I got that idea. Apologies. I tried to find out the percentage of the world’s porn made there and came up with nothing. The US makes 89% of the world’s porn. South Korea is the biggest market for porn, though.

Romance 1999

This is the happiest anyone looks in the entire film. (source)

A couple who’ve been together a few months are having difficulties because the man—Paul (Sagamore Stevenin) is no longer interested in sex. He doesn’t think it’s important. Marie (Caroline Ducey) heartily disagrees. She wants to be with him every night.

He gives her tacit permission to have an affair—or at least wouldn’t be bothered if she did (they are French, after all)—but she hasn’t.

In bed that evening she attempts to fellate him after he clearly says no (this is obviously unsimulated) and they discuss his decision to not engage in sexual intercourse.

His motives are unclear, but they don’t need to be articulated. I wanted to say to Marie that no is a complete sentence. It was interesting to see a man being the one refusing sexual advances and the woman trying to coerce and guilt their way into sex.

I also wanted the woman to get her hair out of her face. It seemed permanently rumpled.

Unable to get what she wanted, Marie went to a bar and picked up a stranger for anonymous make outs. She likes controlling men. I chose this film for the unsimulated sex, but it would also appeal to men who like women who control their pleasure.

There’s lots of tortured French angst and whispered conversation. Marie cries frequently. Or I should say tears roll down her pale face. There’s no sobbing or expression of sadness. I’m going to call that French weeping from now on.

Both of the leads only wear beige and white, and his very nice apartment is done in the same muted tones. Subtle metaphor for their tepid sex life, there.

She meets up with the guy from the bar and, after putting a condom on his, not unimpressive cock, they have sex (most likely simulated, but for a realistic length of time). And we learn she’s into objectification, though she doesn’t call it that.

Then she winds up having a conversation with someone who is either her colleague or boss—it’s unclear. Either way, his name is Robert (Francois Berleand).

And he is the human equivalent of black mould.

‘The only way to be loved by women is via rape.’

Fuck you, you fucking fuck.

I mean, no one in this is particularly likable, but shit.

There’s a scene with this person that made me want to drag both parties to an educational on enthusiastic consent. After punching him in the face with a billy club. I haven’t so disliked a male character since the Tom Cruise character in Magnolia.

Finally, some sort of consent is requested and granted and they engage in a kinky scene.

Aaaaand there’s a rape scene (not with the colleague/boss). Not consent violation, but what would be called rape by even a vanilla person. Trigger warning there. Around the hour six minute mark. It’s over pretty quickly, but what is the message? ‘This woman has lots of sex so she deserved to be raped?’

Immediately after, though, as the guy is running away she screams:

I’m not ashamed, you asshole!

Which was weirdly empowering.

Still, I am so over rape-as-plot-device the light from it won’t reach me for a thousand years.

This film has some janky-ass shibari. I wanted to fix it—it’s not difficult to do some really simple ties.

Their lives continue on in French angsty whispers and philosophies about men and women and their ultimate incompatibility and sex and blah.

And there are shots of a live birth. Because why not.

Classic French ending of where is this going? Oh right, sure. The credits. There was a kind of sense of closure but it seemed a bit extreme.

She turned the gas on and left the apartment so it exploded, killing both him and his cat. You can just break up with the guy. Not having sex with you hardly warrants murder.

It was something else, I’ll say that. The unsimulated sex was interesting to see as part of a mainstream film.

There were a few conversations about oral sex (female on male) where it was clear it was not a popular act—Marie said she didn’t do it (with the stranger) then with her boyfriend she said she liked the smell of his dick and he called her disgusting. Fellatio with him included just the head. It reminded me of a show from the late 90s called Taxicab Confessions, I think, where cab drivers in New York talked to people in their cabs. One conversation I still recall was between a driver and two French guys who said they liked American girls because French girls didn’t do blow jobs. ‘Maybe if you got them really, really hot they would suck your dick.’ But American girls just did them anyway.

So now I’m curious if that’s changed or if it’s still true.

Aside from the actual sex and the kink it’s a pretty typical, French film about feelings and relationships where you don’t particularly like any of the characters but you want to know how they’re going to make themselves more miserable next.

3/5

Gaspar Noe’s Love

I didn't use any of the posters because they make me feel like this. You can see them here and here.

I didn’t use any of the posters because they make me feel like this. You can see them here and here.

I wasn’t looking at the screen when Gaspar Noe’s Love started—I was looking at my laptop—and the first thing I hear is Bean saying, ‘Well, dang.’ I look up and, on my Netflix-showing screen is a woman stroking a very erect dick with her face right next to it while a dude is enthusiastically fingering her. It wasn’t lit in a typical porny way—where you could do surgery—but, I mean. To quote Bean again, ‘No credits, no nothing.’

‘Well, dang.’ Indeed.

That went on for awhile.

I generally start my reviews with the plot, but this film did not start with plot. It started with a very erect dick and enthusiastic fingering first thing.

Then it got into the plot.

So here’s the plot.

American bro Murphy (Karl Glusman) is in Paris studying film. He starts off in a tumultuous relationship with Frenchwoman Electra (Ayomi Muyock). A sixteen year old, Omi (Klara Kristin), moves in next door to them and the three of them fall into bed. That scene was very hot. Kristin is rather limber. [The sex scenes were not choreographed. Props to the actors.]

The film jumps around in time and it’s not always easy to tell how much time has passed between events in their lives. But Murphy and Electra had experimented with group sex (sorta) at a club meant for that sort of thing, which had been recommended to them by a cop after Murphy tried to punch out a guy because he’s so American. It makes sense in the film, I promise.

So by the time Omi shows up (the actress was 22 when they shot the film for your peace of mine) the couple is already more open to the idea of being with others.

But then bad things happen because monogamy is best—Love is not really pro-open relationships. I’m not sure what this film is trying to say. On one hand, everyone is supposed to be open to doing everyone else and not jealous. On the other, when they do everyone else and get in touch with their sexuality, they end up screaming and fighting. It’s all high-drama and miserable.

Is it a French thing I don’t get? My sensibilities are very Anglo-American. Civil, quiet, let’s discuss this rationally if we have to discuss it. It’s a fundamentally different way of approaching … life. The universe. Everything.

Watching this film I was not seeing ‘love’. I saw ‘poor communication’ and ‘needless angst’. Both of which would make great punk band names.

The film tended to be either sex scenes or dramatic scenes of some general unhappiness or voice-overs of what was going through Murphy’s head (nothing good) as a result of his terrible life choices. And he made those choices because of love? Was that the message? Damn, that’s depressing. I would love to know what other people thought.

'Why didn't I stay in the States? French people are fucking crazy.' (source)

‘Why didn’t I stay in the States? French people are fucking crazy.’ (source)

Love is one of those long movies (2 hrs and 15 minutes) that feels long. The more of these I see the more I appreciate Lars von Triers’ ability to make a long film feel like a film of normal length.

Noe used different color filters to signify time, as the film jumps around between past and present, but it was still difficult to keep up with the timeline.

If you’ve ever tried to watch porn past the point of libidinous interest—that’s what the sex in this film is like. Bean summed it up nicely when she said, ‘They could have cut a third of the sex scenes.’ Maybe if the sex had been kinky or, I don’t know, just… something different it would have been less tedious.

My favorite part was during the threesome. Omi is between Murphy and Electra—she’s facing Electra and they’re having this sweet, intense connection and Murphy is behind her, humping away like a troll. It’s hilarious the difference in the expressions. Looking at the women it’s like he’s not even there and he’s all grrr hurf grrf ruuuff mrrrff.

Okay, he doesn’t make any sounds, but that’s probably what’s going through his mind.

Overall, I have to damn this one with faint phrase and say it was all right. It wasn’t the depressingness of it—I like a depressing film and I certainly don’t mind some American-bashing. I’m glad I didn’t see it in 3D, and it had a lot of same-y sex (which is different from same sex sex). And its depiction of non-monogamy left something to be desired. Meh. If you want to be able to see a lot of real (and very realistic) sex on Netflix wrapped up in a depressing story about people in messed up relationships —go for it.

Oh yes, there is an actual money shot. Right at the camera. Super up close. Guys, if you’ve ever wondered what a facial is like—this is going to be pretty close while still being hygienic.

3/5

Matinee 2009 (short film)

Two theatre actors have been struggling with a scene in the play they’re in. Before the matinee performance Daniel (Steven McAlistair—NOT Alan Cumming) goes to talk to his co-star Mariah (Alicia Whitsover) about ‘art’ and ‘truth’ or something.

He tries reblocking—changing the way they move during the scene—without the director’s approval or even anyone else present and she blanches. As well she should, he was getting a little handsy and pushy and coercive when she was clearly uncomfortable. RED, asshole.

It’s time to get ready for the show, though, and he goes away, leaving her to think about authenticity in art or some such nonsense you’d expect in a porn set up for sex.

While she’s backstage another co-star—female this time—comes over and talks about how he’s a big soap opera star and how when talent scouts watch him they’ve also noticed his co-stars, too. And there’s a talent scout there to watch him today. Practically screaming: Do something you’re uncomfortable with! Whore yourself for a possible job!

So it’s time for their scene, which is in a bedroom that consists entirely of a bed. They speak two lines then have actual sex in front of an audience. The theatre is small and the seats are right up to the performance area. You couldn’t forget several people were watching you being authentic in your art.

Sometimes when I watch a film from the Wikipedia list of films containing BDSM there’s only one, brief scene. This is the first time where nearly the entire thing (it’s only 34 minutes long) qualifies. In this particular film the fetishes on display are exhibitionism and voyeurism.

If you’re not into either of those things this is not the film for you.

It’s actual sex. Actual, real life, vanilla, hetero sex. But to keep it classy and not full-on porny, the oral sex parts are very brief and not brilliantly lit like an airport runway at night. Male-on-female oral is looking down her body (oh, he’s in there, though) and female-on-male is with a condom and over in a few seconds.

They then do some missionary, girl on top and more missionary. Also realistically lit and in a normal amount of time—it’s not marathon fucking.

I was watching this with Joan and she said some of the theatre-goers had to be thinking: This really isn’t what I thought I’d be seeing today.
My thought was: I really wish I hadn’t brought mom out to the theatre with me.

The point of the short film was that two actual actors were going to have actual sex in a non-pornographic film. It’s pretty clear from the flimsy set up and slightly better than porn dialogue and acting.

The lack of negotiation and pressure it seemed Mariah was under to do something that wasn’t fully her idea put me off.

I don’t think anyone is going to be watching this one for plot so the good news is, the talent scout that was there for Douchebag MacCloud wanted to meet with her, too! Yay! Someone thinks she’s willing to do full sex for ‘art’. That’s not going to make you feel like a piece of meat. What are we supposed to learn from that? Don’t be so reserved? Hey, girls, cross your boundaries? You could possibly, maybe become an actress?

It’s baffling to me that this was written and directed by a woman (Jennifer Lyon Bell). Some people may think of this sort of thing as ‘brave’ but I can’t say I do in this context. The guy comes across as smarmy and rapey and the woman, though she initiates the sexual encounter, is being pressured from more than one side. If you’re a naturally reserved person, that’s fine. Be you.

Normally I wouldn’t post something I thought so little of, but if you’re into exhibitionism or voyeurism you will probably want to check this out and I wanted to be sure that those folks were aware of this one, but this isn’t the sort of film that can be enjoyed on many levels by all sorts of people.

From a voyeuristic side I can certainly see how the idea of being forced to go to a boring as hell play became much more interesting when one couple very clearly had sex right in front of you. And to think, you’d complained because your mate got front row seats and you couldn’t sleep through it.

From the exhibitionist side, the entire concept of, ‘I’m just not feeling the truth of these characters,’ works if you’re both playing the sorts of actors who are always looking for authenticity. The seats in this performance area are right up so you’d be fully on display, though you’d probably want better lighting.

1/5

Nymphomaniac Extended Director’s Cut

There are certain films on the Wikipedia page of ‘BDSM in Film‘ that I have no interest in seeing. Until last week Lars von Trier’s epic Nymphomaniac was on that list—it was too long and the trailer didn’t make it look like anything I would enjoy. (And though I’d liked Melancholia, Antichrist made me want to die.)

Then my friend Joan asked me if I’d seen it.

‘No, it’s not really on my list of Things to Subject Myself to.’
‘I really enjoyed it,’ she said. ‘I’d watch it again.’

It couldn’t have been too hellish, I figured. Netflix had the extended director’s cut, which was 5 ½ hours long. And if I’m going to do something I’m going to do it, dammit.

Joan said, ‘I’ll watch it with you. It’ll be interesting to see what they cut.’

That, ladies and gentlemen, is friendship. Not helping move house. Not helping move a body. Watching a Lars von Trier film you’ve already seen for 5 ½ hours in one go.

So I got up early (for me), as she was in a different time zone and also participated in day-walker hours. And we watched it together.

I dedicate this post to friendship and the amazing people you meet online. This is a longer post so I’m going to put the rest behind a break. I keep my reviews free of spoilers usually—there are a few in this one, but they’re behind spoiler tags.

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