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A Problem with Authority: Dušan Makavejev’s Art of Repulsion

A Problem with Authority: Dušan Makavejev’s <em></em>Art of Repulsion

Dušan Makavejev’s boundary-pushing 1974 film Sweet Movie gleefully skewers the forces of social oppression with a twisted double narrative and Day-Glo scenarios. At a time when the director’s native Yugoslavia was carving out a unique position somewhere between the political systems of Eastern and Western Europe, the film’s twin stories were audacious in their attack of the reigning ideologies of the day, sparing neither communism nor capitalism. The two adventures never intersect, though each tells the story of a separate woman’s erotic exploits. One, Mademoiselle Canada (Carole Laure), the virgin prize of a bachelor tycoon, is a pretty personification of commodity culture. The other, Captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), is a failed Marxist revolutionary aboard a ship. Each woman wades through a variety of obstacles and plenty of bodily fluids. There’s the tossing around of human excrement, blood and breastmilk, and even a messy sex-murder in a vat of sugar. All of this, mashed together with sobering black-and-white war atrocity newsreel footage, makes for a sharp critique of social hypocrisy.

The unconventional story is a Frankenstein of tone, a hybrid of horror-shock, pastiche, sketch comedy, and other styles. Made in an era that would come to be defined by the early age of Hollywood blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars, it stands out as a renegade project. Instead of birthing an alternative universe through hero myths and origin-story sequels, the film depicts a world populated by losers—except for one winner, and she becomes a loser by winning too. Makavejev eviscerates any semblance of money-making guide posts with his visual grotesquerie. Why court moviegoers when you can repel them?

One scene early in the film exemplifies its subversive attack on popular taste and political apathy. It also acts as a clear introduction to Makavejev’s interest in the perils of sexual repression, grounded in a belief in the work of the Austrian psychoanalyst William Reich, who advocated exorcising neuroses through erotic and socioeconomic liberation. Welcome to the Miss World 1984 contest, presented as an episode of The Crazy Daisy Show. A velvet-bow-tied announcer lauds it as “sophisticated entertainment,” and the semifinalists are seven of the world’s most well-preserved virgins. This brouhaha is sponsored by the Chastity Belt Foundation and its chairwoman, the matriarch Martha Alplanalpe of the Aristotles Alplanalpe Chain Stores clan (family motto: “When we buy something, we buy the best and we buy it brand new”). The winner will get 50 billion dollars and become the wife of Mrs. Alplanalpe’s beloved son, Mr. Kapital, whose portrait flashes on-screen, a sepia-tone cowboy in front of redwoods.

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