Liberté

Liberté

Well. Shows depravity is, in fact, a lot more banal than the talk that surrounds it. Still, there’s a roiling sensuality and conflict beneath the film’s placid surface. Literally stripping themselves of propriety and social codes, the performers embrace an animalism; their movements resemble mating rituals, except any explicit goal is replaced with a diffuse curiosity (voyeurism, indiscernible sexual preferences, open-mindedness). Eyes peer through foliage, legs stumble towards body heat, hands fondle bare flesh. The darkness oscillates from mystery to seduction, safety to violence. Faces and intentions are bifurcated by branches and leaves, or else smothered in shadows and the relentless sound of crickets. (Capturing the soft, painterly light must’ve been a Herculean task for whoever was in charge of the light meter.) Engorged genitalia, greasy faces, and the gawkiness of the sexual activity evidences a weird horror of the human body that’s in stark contrast to the straight-backed, decadently costumed aristocracy. Within its historical context—anticipating the seismic shift of the French Rev—the film presents a twilight moment of possibility that’s addled by the tension of class differences and how impotent reality is compared to the imagination.

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