Un Chant d'Amour has long been a Holy Grail for fans of both queer and experimental cinema, capturing the controversial nexus of the two much like Kenneth Anger's more lauded Fireworks. The film was banned in France upon initial release in 1950, and copies in the States have only been released in censored underground bootlegs. This generous Cult Epics DVD, whose release coincides with a brief theatrical reissue, attempts to properly situate the movie in the vital canon of avant-garde shorts, where it belongs.
The only film ever directed by scandalous writer Genet, Un Chant d'Amour is a silent, black-and-white, 26-minute homoerotic nightmare/fantasy about Parisian prison life, voyeurism and the damaging effects of gay repression. It focuses on two prisoners in adjoining cells whose masturbatory foreplay has the cinematic resonance of a poetic dance, as Genet devises phallic imagery and other sexual double entendres that transcend the physical wall separating them. A prison guard watches them through peepholes, adding another layer of social commentary about the sexual inhibitions of the time and the seediness associated with homosexuality.
Beautifully shot by an uncredited Jean Cocteau, the film is fascinating to look at regardless of your sexual
preference; it's hard to believe Un Chant d'Amour was intended for Parisian gay porn collectors (according to the DVD box art) rather than cinephiles. The nonprofessional actors have arresting presence; one of them resembling a '40s film noir heavy and the other vaguely looks like Morrissey, particularly when he's dancing ... which is often. This may be a blasphemous comparison, but many of the sequences would seem perfect if scored by Erasure hits, especially since the film contains no musical soundtrack. Consider this an open call to YouTubers.
Special features include an uncomfortably close introduction by noted experimentalist Jonas Mekas, who discusses the film's controversy at length. He had to smuggle in a print himself. Two interview films with Genet, conducted four and five years before his 1986 death, comprise the supplemental disc. Antoine Bourseiller's Genet is languid and soporific, a difficult-to-achieve disappointment given such a fascinating subject. Bertrand Poirot-Delpech's Jean Genet, on the other hand, gets it right. Asking the hardball questions about Genet's radical political stances and white liberal guilt, the combative Poirot, in effect, calls the famed writer on his bullshit. Genet is often left fumbling for answers, making for compelling television.
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