Jul 30, 2014
Although best remembered, if remembered at all, for her small role as a high-class whore in Marco Ferreri’s savage anti-bourgeois satire La Grande Bouffe (1973) and playing alongside Isabelle Huppert in Claude Goretta’s class-conscious erotic romance flick The Lacemaker (1977) aka La dentellière, French actress Florence Giorgetti deserves to be recognized for probably being the only actress in cinema history who has starred in multiple artsy horror-thriller films as a hysterical woman who suffers the ultimate female insult of being in a relationship with a pansy poof painter who prefers men over women (to make things stranger, Giorgetti also happens to be the mother of French painter Frédéric Arditi, though I am not sure as to whether or not he is on the pink team). Giorgetti’s first cinematic excursion in the realm of flicks about chicks that unwittingly date guys that like dicks was as the eponymous character of superlatively strange quasi-Hitchcockian sodomite slasher flick Monique (1978) aka Flashing Lights directed by undeservedly forgotten artsploitation auteur/gay pornographer Jacques Scandelari (Beyond Love and Evil, New York City Inferno). The second film Giorgetti starred in playing the role of a forsaken babe with a boy-buggering beau, Snails in the Head (1980) aka Un escargot dans la tête, was also directed by a fag frog filmmaker/pornographer by the name of Jean-Étienne Siry. When not directing homo hardcore flicks like Mâles hard corps (1977) and And God Created Man (1978) aka Et... Dieu créa les hommes, Siry was working in the more respectable trade of designing poster art for films ranging from Richard Lester’s Beatles vehicle Help! (1965) to Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Lola (1981). As far as I can tell, Snails in the Head is Siry’s first and sole directing excursion in the non-pornographic realm, as a rather idiosyncratic psychosexual horror-thriller with surrealist elements. Indeed, like Scandelari’s Monique, Siry’s film is from a forgotten time in film history during the late-1970s/early-1980s when gay auteur-pornographer’s thought they could capitalize on the popularity of horror/exploitation cinema while also including a semi-cryptic gay subtext depicting the ‘horrors’ of a homo attempting to live an ostensibly heterosexual lifestyle. Featuring an ambient synthesizer-driven soundtrack by Didier Vasseur, who also got his start in gay porn (he scored Jack Deveau’s Le musée (1976) aka Strictly Forbidden, which Siry penned and also starred in) and also appears briefly in the film as a musician, Snails in the Head is a nasty and surprisingly nuanced, if not predictably uneven, little celluloid nightmare that is quite unquestionably trashy and even kitschy in parts, but also manages to be quite unnerving, as if the viewer has the distinct displeasure of being wrapped up in the perturbing (psycho)drama going on inside the fagola filmmaker’s unhinged head. The film is also notable for conforming to racial stereotypes, as the slur ‘Snail-Snapper’ is not used against the French people for nothing, thus making Snails in the Head a sort of French (anti)Heimat horror flick.
Opening with the generic warning, “Between dream and reality is a frontier that no-one should ever cross…,” Snails in the Head immediately lets the viewer know that they are about to enter a sometimes surreal world that blurs the line between reality and fucked fantasy. Hélène (Florence Giorgetti) is a somewhat successful novelist, but something must be wrong with her as she is currently staying in a mental institution and one night while sleeping in her hospital room she suffers a horrible hallucination where she sees snails crawling out of the wall during what seems like an earthquake (undoubtedly, this scene seems to anticipate the hospital scene from Clive Barker's Hellraiser). When Hélène’s ex-boyfriend Antoine (Jean-Claude Bouillon) comes by to check on her at the nuthouse, it is revealed she is a highly hysterical woman that has a hard time keeping a mensch around. Happily married with a child, Antoine accuses Hélène of destroying her previous relationships with him and her husband Philippe, venomously stating, “You wanted him to live only through you and for you […] You always destroy everything you touch. It seems you take delight in doing people’s misfortune.” Of course, more daunting drama and devastation eventually comes into Hélène’s life when she becomes involved with a widowed painter named Edouard (played by underrated frog actor Renaud Verley, who previously starred in Visconti’s The Damned (1969) and Claudio Guerín’s A Bell From Hell), who had himself been institutionalized after losing his ability to paint after both his wife and daughter were tragically killed in a car accident. Naturally, Hélène is delighted to hear that Edouard is a fan of her latest novel, though she is saddened by his remark that he does not like the portrait of her that was featured on the back of the book. As it turns out, the novelist's ex-husband Philippe took the photo, which Edouard concludes was taken by a man who, “didn’t like women very much.” If one thing is for sure, it is that Philippe haunts the nut-job novelist's life, as she constantly daydreams about being sexually devoured by her ex-hubby who, although not actually featured in the film (aside from a couple flashback sex scenes), has a certain mystique about him that little Eddie seems to lack.
Of course, when both Hélène and Edouard get out of the loony bin, they begin dating one another, with their first date being at the former’s dimly lit houseboat. After introducing Edouard to her beloved pet owl Dimitri, Hélène plays a record of Wagner’s “Liebestod” and the painter morbidly and ultimately prophetically declares, “Wagner is the King…Die loving…Love to death…to the height that only death can understand.” As one can expect, Edouard eventually gets his wish to “love to death,” though it is not nearly as romantic as he probably hoped it would be. Of course, in no time, Hélène moves out of her quaint houseboat and moves into Edouard's considerably eerie and equally disconcerting rural farmhouse. Indeed, a man that has not gotten over the death of his wife and child, Edouard not only keeps two mannequins at his dinner table to make him feel less lonely in regard to his recently deceased family, but he has also kept the smashed car that his loved ones died in. While Hélène has, to some dubious degree, fallen in ‘love’ with Edouard, the painter’s elderly friends, an old busybody bitch named Mrs. Sevetier (Jeanne Allard) and her quasi-cuckolded husband Mr. Sevetier (Marcel Gassouk), describe her as a “whore” behind her back. As a man who describes his deceased wife as having a “bitch look” and sometimes nostalgically recollects murder fantasies he has had in the past, Ed is not exactly the most stable of individuals. Indeed, after describing how his dead spouse and her friends were once, “posing and parading like fags to mock me. I could have killed all of them! All of them!,” Edouard violently stabs a piece of food like an autistic child with a unhealthy addiction to Ritalin and shitty slasher flicks, which does not exactly cheer up Hélène who, despite having just fallen in love, has an impenetrable case of melancholy. Upon learning Ed and his friends the Sevetiers love raising and eating snails, Hélène begins having grotesque nightmares about slimy mollusks, including one rather disturbing dream where she gives birth to hundreds of these slimy creatures while doctors celebrate by drinking wine (after all, France is the land of wine-sniffing Snail-Snappers). Of course, things get all the more strange when Edouard paints a portrait of Hélène with a giant snail on the top of her head.
When Hélène and Edouard go to see the former’s ex-boyfriend Antoine, their relationship ultimately comes tumbling down in a most deleterious sort of way that no love affair could ever recover from. Indeed, when Antoine reveals to Hélène that her lawyer has been trying to get in touch with her for days because her ex-husband, who she constantly has flashbacks of having sex with, has committed suicide via self-lynching. Naturally, Hélène becomes completely hysterical and irrationally hostile and when Ed attempts to comfort her, she absurdly blames him for the suicide of her ex-husband, calls him a “dirty faggot,” and tells him to get away from her. To top everything off, Hélène’s beloved owl attacks Edouard, so the painter breaks the cute little creature's neck, throws it at his decidedly distraught girlfriend, and storms out of the house. Taking what Hélène said to heart, Edouard decides to become a “dirty faggot” and begins a romantic relationship with a Viking-like dude with longhair and leather-fag mustache named Etienne (Charles Dubois), but before joining the pink team, the poof painter ritualistically burns his two mannequins and the car his wife and child died in, thus symbolically destroying all ties to his past and previous life as a heterosexual family man. Instead of painting portraits of Hélène, Ed begins working on a morbid portrait of his boy toy Etienne’s decapitated head. When Hélène shows up at Edouard’s humble abode in a desperate attempt to rekindle their scorched relationship and defiantly declares to Mrs. Sevetier, “I come to see my lover to get laid,” she discovers that her less than sane beau, who is too drunk on snails and sodomy to care about some sad slag, wants nothing to do with her. Eventually, Hélène receives a letter from Edouard telling her to meet him at his house, but when she does, she discovers her lover dead with snails crawling on his fairy face. In the end, the film comes full-circle, as Hélène awakens in her room at the mental institution and discovers snails, as well as Edouard, coming through cracks in the wall.
Equal parts aberrant arthouse absurdity, tasteless quasi-supernatural celluloid trash, and crypto-anti-family homo hysteria, Snails in the Head is certainly a work that defies classification as an artsploitation flick that could have only been created in late-1970s/early-1980s post-counter-culture France. Indeed, auteur Jean-Étienne Siry came from the same circle of iconoclastic frog fag filmmakers like Lionel Soukaz (Race d'Ep aka The Homosexual Century, Ixe), Philippe Vallois (Johan - Mon été 75, Rainbow Serpent aka Haltéroflic), and Stéphane Marti (La cité des neuf portes, Mira corpora) that, although now largely forgotten, took French cinema to unforeseeable realms of unhinged libertinism and aesthetic subversion that make the filmmakers of the French New Wave seemed like a bunch of prudish old farts. While apparently receiving mostly favorable reviews when it was first released over three decades ago, Snails in the Head was destined to be forgotten, as it is just too plain preternatural, warped, perverted, and distressing to have ever developed even a small fan base, as a work that was clearly directed by a genuinely sick and depraved sperm burper who seem to see heterosexuality and vaginas (hence, the 'slimy' snails) as quite horrifying. Indeed, not unlike the work of Jörg Buttgereit and Marian Dora, Siry’s film is too intelligent, subtextual, and poetic to appeal to the average philistine horror fan and bourgeois arthouse fans would probably piss their Criterion Collection brand panties if they were forced to endure such a fucked flick that dares to mix kitschy supernatural horror conventions with perverted celluloid poetry. Admittedly, as a work about a mentally deranged woman who falls in love with an even more mentally deranged man who converts to cocksucking after being called a “faggot” one-too-many times and who eventually dies in a distinctly undignified fashion with snails crawling across his face, Snails in the Head is not exactly an uplifting work, but instead, a spasmodic piece of heterophobia that challenges the bounds of aesthetic and thematic sanity. Indeed, when it comes down to it, Siry’s film is a cryptic cautionary tale about the abject misery that colon-chokers might suffer if they deny their god given right to buggering bros and do the unthinkable by marrying a woman.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 4:02 AM
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