May 16, 2014

Gloria mundi (1976)




 Despite their professed love of freedom, humanism, equality, and liberation, it oftentimes seemed that far-left European filmmakers, especially of the Mediterranean persuasion, of the late-1960s/1970s had a special affinity for perversion, sadomasochism, hatred, and vulgarity, with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) representing arguably the apex of such highly (pseudo)intellectualized aesthetic savagery, though Bernardo Bertolucci, Liliana Cavani, and Marco Ferreri, among countless other auteurs, did their part as well to turn cinema into a form of terrorism. Of course, for every Pasolini or Ferreri flick, there were also films by somewhat lesser known but no less subversive auteur filmmakers like Alberto Cavallone (Spell – Dolce mattatoio aka Man, Woman and Beast, Blue Movie), Salvatore Samperi (Cuore di mamma aka Mother’s Heart, Uccidete il vitello grasso e arrostitelo aka Kill the Fatted Calf and Roast It), Giulio Questi (Django Kill, Death Laid an Egg), and Elio Petri (A Quiet Place in the Country, Todo modo), among countless others, that tested the bounds of celluloid decency, with Greek-French filmmaker Nikos Papatakis (Les abysses, Thanos and Despina) being a particularly interesting case of leftist artsploitation filmmaking that would certainly baffle today's much softer leftist ideologues. Born in Ethiopia in 1918 where he would eventually join the army of Haile Selassie (a man that later became the supposed 'messiah' of the Rastafari movement) as a teenager in 1935 to fight Mussolini’s invasion, Papatakis relocated to Paris in 1939 and soon established himself as a film extra, with his first major film credit being the producer of queer criminal novelist Jean Genet’s sole film, A Song of Love (1950) aka Un chant d'amour. Indeed, homo Genet became infatuated with the handsome hetero, even dedicating his poem ‘La Galère’ (‘The Galley’) to “Nico, the Greco-Ethiopian god.” Among other things, the filmmaker eventually married French Jewish Fellini actress and possible ancestor of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, Anouk Aimée (La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2), in 1951 and acted as a co-producer on John Cassavetes’ first feature Shadows (1959) after temporarily seeking exile in NYC during the early 1950s due to his disgust with the colonialist practices of the French during the Algerian War of Independence. For his audacious directing debut Les Abysses (1963), Papatakis loosely adapted Genet's popular play Les Bonnes, which went on to achieve ‘Succès de scandale,’ so it should be no surprise that the auteur decided to up the ante in terms of aesthetic subversion with his subsequent works, with his film Gloria mundi (1976) aka In Hell aka Tortura—a sort of aesthetically terroristic anti-colonialist piece of meta-cinema that almost totally ruined the filmmaker's career—being easily his most hateful and subversive work to date. Indeed, a film-within-a-film about a considerably crazed neo-bolshevik babe who has been so terribly brainwashed by the (un)holy writ of anti-Saint Marx and his devout disciples by her communist revolutionary/filmmaker boyfriend that she is willing to literally torture herself and carry bombs around Paris for the commie cause, In Hell is also a work that is quite unintentionally incriminating in terms of making far-left filmmakers seem like sicko sadists, as a majorly misanthropic film of the innately sadomasochistic sort that seeks to throw the viewer into an aberrant void of visual and emotional perniciousness and daunting displeasure. A soul-stabbing piece of quasi-art-porn agitprop steeped in nihilism, emotional and political hysteria, and incessant anti-erotic nudity, the film features women intentionally burning their breasts with cigarettes in what is sort of a warped form of method acting, a French officer shoving a glass bottle into the naughty bits of an Algerian ‘freedom fighter’ (aka terrorist), and an Algerian belly dancer who can pick up and open bottles with her Islamic cooch. A damning depiction of an unseen filmmaker who coerces his actress/girlfriend/baby mama/slave/disciple into literally torturing herself while rehearsing for a film in limbo that will probably never be finished about the torture of Algerian terrorists by purported frog fascist imperialists, In Hell is a work that ironically portrays the filmmaker as a torturer, terrorist, misogynist and demented debaser who demonstrates his cowardice by using women to carry out his dirty work, as well as a film that portrays communists as bourgeois posers with too much time on their hands, thus making it seem quite inexplicable that it was directed by a staunch left-winger like Nikos Papatakis. Featuring Papatakis' then-wife Olga Karlatos in the lead role as a lovelorn actress who electrocutes her own genitals to appease her degenerate boy toy, In Hell is undoubtedly one of the most troubling cases of life imitating celluloid art and vice versa ever made.




Algerian-born actress Galai (played by Olga Karlatos, who appeared in work ranging from Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 aka Zombie to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America to the musical Purple Rain starring Prince) is a fanatical woman with an unhealthy affinity for revolutionary politics and acting, but her biggest and most deleterious obsession is her filmmaker/revolutionary boyfriend Hamdias, who, although hiding out in some undisclosed location, still manages to keep his girlfriend/actress under his complete and callous control via audio recordings and phones calls. Galai incessantly studies audio tapes given to her by Hamdais that she uses as a guide for acting and terrorist activity, as she wants her boyfriend to recognize her sacrifice as both a lover and freedom fighter and she is willing to do just about anything to obtain his respect and acceptance. During the first couple minutes of In Hell, Galai practices screaming while suffering inexplicable torture by giving herself real electric shocks to her nipples and genitals while sitting in a bathtub. She is also not shy about putting out cigarettes on her breasts, which are covered with a number of nasty burn marks and scars. Galai’s hope is that by successfully doing whatever Hamdias demands, she will be united with him and their lovechild. When Hamdias becomes disappointed with Galai’s completely genuine screams of pain and berates her over the phone with the following words, “Shut up! A real terrorist doesn’t scream as you do! You scream like a slut who likes it! This is not a brothel! This is France! You behave like the scum that you are, you and the race you come from!,” the little lady naturally has a bit of a freakout of sorts and complains to her boyfriend, “I almost stripped my own flesh to rehearse your scenes. Look what you’ve reduced me to! I’m full of blisters. You’ll end this film Hamdias…You’ll end it, one day.” Indeed, Galai takes method acting to new extremes and she has the unflattering battle scars to prove it. When Galai meets up with a prick of a producer named Raftal (Roland Bertin) about funding the rest of the film she and Hamdias are working on, the money man tells her that her boyfriend is a negligent father and “madman” who absurdly puts his energy into politics when he does not even have food to eat.



Indeed, Hamdias is working on an arthouse work set over a two decade period about the torture of Algerian female terrorists and he is proud to admit that his film has no story, nudity (although it does feature nudity, albeit of the anti-erotic sort), nor myths, hence why Raftal will not produce the work as it will not make him any money. Raftal convinces Galai to show him her tits by tricking her into thinking he might give her an acting role in an upcoming film, but instead, the only thing he gives her is a cigar burn on one of her breasts. Clearly deranged and a seasoned master of masochism, Galai merely laughs when Raftal burns her as she is far too desensitized as a result of Hamdias’ incessant abuse to give a damn about such an insignificant injury from such an insignificant man. Later that day, an exceedingly paranoid guy with long hippy hair named Torres, who is a member of the same terrorist cell as her boyfriend, comes by Galai's apartment briefly and gives her money, but he also accuses her and Hamdias of working for the CIA. Indeed, Torres is pissed that Galai has a bomb that she is carrying around in her purse and speculates that she and her boyfriend are part of an elaborate CIA plot to bring down the communist group and he even threatens to ‘neutralize’ Hamdias. Later on, Galai receives a letter from Torres’ terrorist cell claiming that she has jeopardized the entire group with her erratic behavior and that she will be ‘eliminated’ if she does not get rid of her explosives in two hours. Hopelessly devoted to her lunatic lover, Galai opts for keeping the explosives and ditching her apartment. When Galai visits her boyfriend’s cinematographer, he demands that Hamdias must choose between being either a filmmaker or international terrorist, but the revolutionary auteur does not see any difference between the professions. Galai eventually gets the bright idea to hide the bomb at a Catholic Church, but when she asks the priest, he violently kicks her out and condemns her for making a “provocation under God’s roof.” Under Hamdias advice, Galai tries to seek shelter with her boyfriend's sculptor/terrorist friend Naki (Mehmet Ulusoy), but he knocks her out and tries to rape her but vomits instead because he is so repulsed by the cigarette burns on her bosoms. After shoving some cash down her panties, Naki gives the following rant against his ex-buddy Hamdias: “he wants blood, violence, armed fighting. In May ’68, he had the dance in the streets, the dance of death. Revolution! Let’s take on the immigrant workers. The only ones who can get mobilized by despair! He is not only imbued with utopias, he’s also a fool! We need to be coherent, he said, if you’re a revolutionary of art then you must be in politics too!” After bashing Galai's beloved Hamdias and refusing to hold her bomb, Naki is of course snidely berated by angst-addled actress, who states, “Sometime communist, sometime anarchist […] How do you justify your cowardice?”  Indeed, there is no question about it, Galai is the toughest character in the entire film, even if she is an emotional train-wreck, as she has the power of (un)love on her side.



After bitching out Naki, Galai goes on her merry way and heads to a private screening of the footage from the unfinished film she and Hamdias are attempting to find funding for, but little does she realize that a bourgeois bitch named Marsanne (Christiane Tissot) has hatched an elaborate trap and is planning to kill the filmmaker there. Indeed, Marsanne is a disgruntled lover of Hamdias who is brainwashed by feminism and wants to get even with her ex-lover, who she accuses of treachery, even though she is apparently still in love with him. When she arrives at the screening, which takes place at a fancy mansion inhabited by rather wealthy left-wing ideologues, Galai is given some elegant clothing to wear by Marsanne in an act of seemingly unlikely kindness. Of course, Marsanne is merely wearing a mask of pseudo-civility, as she soon begins showing her true self by talking trash about Hamdias, even describing him as a “phallocentric Pygmalion” who pretends to motivated by his desire for “freeing colonized people” yet is against the so-called “de-colonization of the woman.” Naturally, at this point, Galai becomes quite agitated by the negative remarks made about her boyfriend/torturer and begins to quote Hamdias’ revolutionary writings word-for-word as if she is some sort of commie automaton on overdrive, so Marsanne calls her an “under-educated revolutionary,” among various other not so nice things. When another guest at the screening remarks about “the clitoris’ submission to the penis,” Marsanne responds with the following venomous and vulgar words, “We live in an age where an irresistible movement towards community happiness has come to life. Well, I’ll reassure you, little reactionary parrot: a cunt receiving dick or a dick faring her well, once they’re washed they’re like new!” At this point, Galai has lost all semblance of sanity and yells to Marsanne and her friends, “We can’t stand proletarian pseudo-bourgeois any longer! End with civilization. We are ill with dogmas and dogmatisms plagued by liberating pseudo-libidos leprous with ideological colonization, liberalism, imperialism, and Stalinism…infected with neo-Christianism and neo-spiritualism and eaten away by Freud’s disease and the cancer Fascism and social bourgeoisie! You’re all syphilitic! Consumptive! Rotten,” and then proceeds to smash a TV screen. After all of the drama begins to cool down, Galai, Marsanne, and the rest of the guests finally get around to seeing the footage from Hamdias’ unfinished film, which is about a French soldier who has a forbidden romance with an Algerian belly dancer (played by Galai) who can pickup and open bottles with her vagina. Flash forward two decades later, the French soldier is now an officer who tortures his former belly dancer girlfriend’s terrorist daughter (who was a baby in the scenes from two decades before), even shoving a bottle up her vagina to the point where she bleeds profusely from her gash and then loses all consciousness. After the screening, a perverted psychiatrist comes up to Galai and remarks how the film is fascinating because of its supposed “obsession with maternal vagina.” Eventually, the psychiatrist loses it after Galai says he resembles Hamdais and attempts to shove a bottle up the actress’ snatch, but she has no problem beating up the intellectual weakling.  From there, Galai attempts to kill everyone at the screening with her bomb, but it is soon exposed that the bomb in question is not real, so the guests then proceed to gang up on the actress and verbally and physically assault her. In the end, Marsanne and her co-conspirators attempt to get Galai to call Hamdais on the phone, as they have attached a bomb to the phone line that will detonate if the filmmaker picks up, but naturally his long suffering girlfriend refuses to do so. Of course, when Galai arrives at Hamdais’ apartment, he is already dead.




Featuring a woman that seems more demonically possessed than Linda Blair in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) and is like the virtual prototype for Isabelle Adjani’s character in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981), In Hell is certainly not a film you should see if you suffer from a hysterical girlfriend with erratic behavior, as the work might push you over the edge of sanity due to its positively peturbing and unnerving portrayal of a woman under the influence of semi-insanity and lovesickness. Considering auteur Nikos Papatakis was married twice and he clearly subjected his second wife Olga Karlatos to torture while shooting In Hell, one can only speculate how autobiographical the film is. Indeed, while watching the work, all I could think about was how it felt like an unintentional parody of filmmakers like Albert Cavallone, who essentially ruined his life and career due to his uncompromising vision as a subversive filmmaker who refused to play by the rules, but it seems that Papatakis was to some degree attacking himself, which is a commendable act for any artist. Featuring references to Luis Buñuel (a The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) poster is featured prominently during the beginning of the film) and advertised with a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, In Hell is certainly not the exploitation trash that certain DVD companies and gorehounds try to pass it off as nowadays, but of course, like Pasolini’s Salò, the infamy of the work’s aesthetic brutality will always transcend its artistic merit. As far as I am concerned, In Hell is more or less the cinematic confession of a uniquely unhinged auteur/revolutionary that may feature a prominent, it not superlatively shallow, anti-colonialist message of sorts, but is really a character study about master and slave relationships (i.e. auteur and actress + boyfriend and girlfriend) and sadism and masochism.


 Unflinchingly anti-bourgeois and extremely critical of far-left revolutionaries and neo-commie terrorists (in the film, the bourgeois and far-left revolutionaries are essentially one in the same), In Hell is ultimately in the idiosyncratic ‘anti-leftist leftist’ tradition of Dušan Makavejev (WR: Mysteries of the Organism, The Coca-Cola Kid) as a scathing and quasi-scatological critique of the far-left from the far-left, thus making it a work that will probably appeal more to right-wing anarchists/libertines than contemporary pansy leftists, who tend to be rather intolerant people that get offended by mere words (i.e. ‘tranny’, ‘nigger’, ‘bitch’) and certainly could not bear to see a commie comrade have a bottle shoved up her cunt. Of course, more than anything, the film is a work of unflinching celluloid misanthropy that attacks everyone, not least of all ‘bobos’ (bourgeois bohemians). Of course, In Hell did not just offend certain members of the left upon its release; as the film was apparently withdrawn from distribution upon its release because some rightwingers threatened to plant bombs in any theater that dared to screen the film and thus the work would not be screened in a Paris theater again until 2005. I must admit that In Hell is my first introduction to Papatakis and at the very least, it has enticed me enough to want to dig up the auteur filmmaker’s entire oeuvre. Papatakis may have fought against Mussolini’s Guido heroes and professed to be a leftist, but like the fictional filmmaker Hamdias of In Hell, he was most certainly a demented dictator of sorts who used and abused people, including his wife, for his art, which is certainly something any serious cinephile can appreciate, whether they want to admit it or not. 



-Ty E

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