Friday, November 21, 2008

Why are we still in the 18th Century?

When all the movies at the MK2 were sold out last night, I counted my losses (which ended up being more than I could anticipate as my bike seat was stolen while I was in the movie) and went to see *The Duchess* It will probably be one of those films nominated for a bagful of Oscars, and well it should because Keira Knightly is ravishing, as are her dresses. Is it a great film? Not really, but you need to see it for the sheer pleasure of looking at Knightly for two hours in a refined, gracious and extraordinary performance.

Though at first glance, Woody Allen's latest film, *Vicky, Christina, Barcelona* might seem worlds away, it reminded me. Not only because Penelope Cruz was at her fiery best, but, yet again, we find a film extolling the need to be more flexible, embracing, and adventurous in our approach to sex and love. *Vicky, Christina, Barcelona* encourages exploration of polygamy, three-way sex, and eschewal of the sexual strait-jackets that typically enslave us to committed, monogamous (heterosexual) relationships. I came away from Allen's film thinking it was a welcome change from the stolid and stuttering films he has churned out over the past few years. But on reflection, its ultimate proclamations are no different from those of *The Duchess.* Well, they are different, on account of the fact that Woody Allen thinks he is being transgressive and liberal in his representation of twentieth century relationships. Whereas Saul Dibb who made *The Duchess* has us outraged and weeping at the forced sexual repression, violent misogyny and corrosive social mores of the eighteenth century.

Both films represent the pleasures and pluses of men's sexual experiences and expressions. Men are represented as sexually and romantically polyvalent, they are shown to desire and deserve multiple women as a way of confirming their identities as men with needs to be fulfilled. However, where Woody Allen's film waxes lyrical about such male escapades, Saul Dibb offers a searing critique of 18th century society's approval of the same. Ralph Fiennes as the abhorrent Duke, obsessed with the procreation of a son, is given not the slightest whiff of redemption. Javier Bardem (of *No Country for Old Men* fame) is, contrarily, a hopeless, dreamy romantic who we are encouraged to identify with.

So why is it that we still live in a world in which the perversions of men's erotic lives be sanctioned as socially acceptable while we women must continue to be sexually compliant and complicit? I don't understand this, and have no answer to the question. It's true that the women in my life are generally exciting and gorgeous and they make the world a different place with their feminine energy - sexual and otherwise. I also know many men who live happily, fulfilling sex lives without ever even thinking they are too virile or passionate for one woman. Why should either these women or men be subjected to such sexual politics? But that's not really the point: if we continue to ignore the blatant misogyny and the effective abuse of women, albeit candy-coated, on the big screen, we run the risk that it will continue to be the reality for your daughters and mine.

I am off to see *Two Lovers* - I could be wrong, but my suspicons are not good.

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