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Saturday, September 03, 2011
In Venice, Jung, Freud, and Glory of Prostitutes
Venice, Sept 2
A wounded physician is the best physician, said Carl Jung. And thus a madwoman makes a perfect psychiatrist -- someone who's gone over the threshold and come back, clutching the precious knowledge of which those who remain safely on this side would never know.
Or so it is sugested in "A Dangerous Method", the new David Cronenberg's film screened in the Venice Competition this morning. It proves to be a less dangerous head-trip than many might've expected, but still a tough, dialogue-heavy, letter-reciting drama about the early days of psychoanalysis and the legendary rivalry between Freud and Jung. Viggo Mortensen plays the cigar-smoking Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender is the pipe-sucking Jung -- but the wildcard here is Keira Knightley, who plays Sabina Spielrein, the deranged, masochistic Russian girl who's initially treated by Jung before leading her good doctor along the path of sexual exploration. As the film suggests, the madwoman-turned-shrink is a major catalyst to the two doctors/theorists (especially to Jung, haunted by a rigid family life and his belief in the metaphysics), and the history of psychoanalysis owes her a great deal.
It's a joke in the film that Freud's staunch belief in the power of sexual drive has arrived from the fact that he doesn't get any. Then Freud would've loved to see the film I saw in the afternoon, fabulously titled "Whores' Glory", and shot partly, would you be surprised, in a massage parlour of our crazy Bangkok. Precisely, in the establishment called Hi-Class on Rachadapisek Rd. The film, a sort-of documentary, was made by Austrian Michael Glawogger -- perhaps one of the two or three most important Austrian filmmakers at work today -- and it is mostly a straight-faced record of brothel life in three country, Bangkok, Bangladesh and Mexico. As if the only people who get horny are those who live near the Equator.
The Bangkok part, subtitled "The Fish Tank", is very superficial. Not that I'm particularly well-versed in the business of the fish tank -- the nickname of the glass room through which prostitutes display themselves in massage parlours -- but because the film cannot cross over the lure of exoticism. That hookers also pray is hardly a revelation, since spiritual belief doesn't only belong to "the good women". What also bugs me is the fact that "Whores' Glory" uses actors (at least two that I recognise) to pose as customers who visit the fish bowl, and they say lines that sound forced and banal and that do not add to anything we've understood, rightly or wrongly, about the profession. By the way, I doubt if the film will ever get to play in Bangkok, not even at film festivals, because the censors would fly into a rage at some of the images depicted here -- and I don't just mean the acknowledgement of the sex trade.
The parts shot in Bangladesh and Mexico are more interesting, not only because I'm not famliar with those places, but because the film involves a more strategc narrative, and the power of documentary-style observation is slightly more pronounced. Still, "Whores' Glory" is hardly a definitive film on the subject that's complex, globe-spanning and full of dialectics. For a start, the film would've been much more interesting, to me at least, had it included an episode on the red-light district in a wealthy Western country. Whores and glory are global currencies, aren't they?
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