18. Sweet Movie artistic: 7 / gross out; 6
Once you begin to watch this 70's oddity--an obscure and shocking ode to the joys of communal living and nonconformist thinking--you soon think to yourself: "When is something going to happen?' And then realize nothing is going to happen...at least not in the way you think or could reasonably expect. Director Dusan Makavejev's bizarre trip down a river in Amsterdam in a ship of revelry and rebellion--a journey both literal and figural into heart of counterculture idealism--consists of a surreal series of episodes, loosely involving the strange adventures of a beauty contestant.
"Miss Monde 1984" symbolizes just about everything wrong with American capitalism (greed, possession, conversion of people into commodities) and, like the protagonist of Terry Southern's Candy, another well-known freak-out, she encounters a series of lovers and loonies who defile or enlighten her in one way or another (in the process, escaping the clutches of John Vernon, before he was the sleazy college dean in Animal House, here a sleazy businessman to whom she is betrothed as a game-show trophy wife.)
The story is sometimes inscrutable, and purposely so. What is of prime importance here is a panorama of confrontative images expressing the liberating forces of sexuality and corporeality unleashed in a battle against the grim and cynical grinding gears of capitalism, commercialism, and materialism. Sweet Movie says that in order for the humane to triumph over the repressive, grotesqueness must be unleashed, and the road to freedom is often uncomfortable and disorienting.
And in demonstrating the point, it aims to be more of an experience than a narrative. That's the key to enjoying it. The film is about as close as you can get to capturing the zeitgeist and guiding techniques of performance and conceptual art; it does not seek to tell the audience a story as much as produce an in-the-moment, temporary, jarring, and transformative experience. This unusual cinematic emphasis of performance over narrative attempts to create a strange "living bridge" between the performers and the audience; between the acting out of the film and the watching of it; and between how it affected its participants as they made it and how it affects the viewer as he or she receives the performance. If there can be such a thing, Sweet Movie wants to be a "live" film. In this sense, it is a direct descendent of the artistic modes of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollack and Willem DeKooning, and the "second-wave" New York School of poets that includes John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara.
Some people will hate it, and see it as a boring and self-indulgent mess, and to some extent it is. But just like you shouldn't trust anyone over thirty, don't trust anyone who flat out rejects this film and its premise. There are the usual elements a Disturbist expects: orgiastic modes of chocolate immersion, full-body sugar-coating, peeing on other people and poop-eating (both real and simulated), flagellant food fights, and polymorphously perverse sexual exploration.
But unlike most of the other travesties on our list, instead of degradation or terror the transgression displayed here serves the possibilities of joy, catharsis, and the struggle to remain psychologically alive in a world defined by capital and commodity. Makavejev, a Yugoslavian avant-garde filmmaker deeply influenced by communist ideas and the psycho-sexual theory of Wilhelm Reich, followed up his cult film W.R. Mysteries of the Organism with this feast for the eyes and senses, a "story" both abstractly intellectual and grounded in the body.
In this regard, it is seminal cinema that was both ahead of its time and could only come out of its own era.
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