One of the benefits (or not) of living in the twenty-first century is how politically conscious, hyper -ism aware you are. Even when you are watching cinema as masterful as Ophül‘s or Renoir‘s, you find yourself uncomfortable with certain scenes. For example, the scene in which the woman resists the man’s advances until he forces himself onto her.
Yesterday, we watched two incredible films — Partie de campagne (Jean Renoir, 1936) which was left incomplete until Becker finished it ‘as the director would have intended it’ and La Ronde (Max Ophüls, 1950). Both are films on love (not its lowbrow cousin, romance). Even with the humour, the love is of an incredibly mature kind, the je t’aime parce que tu me résiste kind. The sort of love that leaves you embarrassed about your own flimsy romantic experiences. If I could describe Ophüls in one word it would be ‘eloquent’. (I’m still struggling with Renoir.)
Both films have the same “moments of violence” as I call them, and they are certainly not the only films to have them. In the process of falling in love, or falling into bed, with each other, the characters play a game: the man moves forward, the woman pulls away. The man places a hand on a shoulder or arm, the woman brushes it away. He grabs her waist, she attempts to escape. Finally he forces himself onto her and there is a moment — an obvious pause — which, despite its familiarity, makes you wonder if she will scream rape or succumb. Instead of doing either, she kisses him back with a passion of such intensity one would think it was her idea to make love in the first place.
There are several ways to read this behaviour. From the cruder side of the spectrum is the idea that woman is turned on by man’s violence. But this does not seem to be quite it. I suggest that the whole jeu is a codified sequence, which is the woman’s way of saying, ‘I know you want me. I want you too. But if I wait till you force yourself onto me, I will be absolved of giving in to this forbidden love.’ This is, of course, not to accuse the woman of being a shrew or the man of being a willing pig. Quite simply, it’s a social gesture in cinema that allows for the woman to escape a total social condemnation in the eyes of the viewer of participating in this sexual act. In real life, things aren’t quite so easily orchestrated.
A similar, yet very different, ‘moment’ is seen in India’s latest semi-underground cultural phenomenon, Savita Bhabhi*. Unfortunately, my ISP has blocked the site and I cannot reference this; I’m resorting to a somewhat murky memory here.
Right from the start of each episode, Savita is flirtatious, almost as if she were on the prowl for her ext sexual adventure. She teases the man into a sexual frenzy (in later episodes, going so far as to give him a blowjob without any qualms), but when it comes down to actual penetration, she resists. Usually, the resistance is observed in a thought bubble. She will think something along the lines of, ‘Oh no, what is he doing? I didn’t mean for it to go this far!’ It’s not a moment of violence in the traditional sense, but it seems to function in the same way as in a lot of French cinema. That little thought of Savita’s is enough for us to say, ‘Ah, at least the woman knows her limits.’ Of course, in the next instant, she realises she might as well get on with it seeing as her underwear is off anyway.
This poorly-labelled ‘moment’ is not quite so consistent in Savita Bhabhi, but it occurs often enough for me to call it a device. In the last episode that I read, Savita dreams that she is being used by her ex-lover, now part of an anti-terrorist squad, to catch the head of a particularly dangerous terrorist organisation. The plan is to seduce and distract him just enough so that the squad can come in and get him. The seduction goes through its ‘moment’ when Savita realises she has to go the whole way if she really wants to save her country. It’s quite fascinating how the creators of SB have managed to turn Savita’s sexual transgressiveness into something of use to the nation! I was impressed.
*Savita Bhabhi is a pornographic internet cartoon in which Savita is a married woman who dresses in provocative, yet for all purposes, traditional Indian clothing (saris, mainly). For many Indian men, she embodies the fantasy of the loose Indian married woman. Savita hassexcapades with people of all social classes — film actors, house boys (Indian version of pool boy), travelling salesmen, terrorists, teenage boys, and so on, and her husband is none the wiser. The site has recently been banned on several ISPs.