Sunday, July 09, 2006

Women Who Rape Men and Other Revelations

The Book of Revelation (Directed by Ana Kokkionos, 2006)

Recently I saw a new Australian film called The Book of Revelation. Directed by Ana Kokkinos and based on Rupert Thomson's novel, The Book of Revelation centres on Daniel (Tom Long), a dancer who leaves dance rehearsals one afternoon to buy (on command) a pack of cigarettes for his boring dance partner girlfriend (Anna Torv). When he doesn't return, the dance company gets worried, but replaces him nonetheless. The show must go on. Little did they realise poor Daniel had been abducted by three women cloaked in what appeared a kind of Opus Dei drag. They chain him to the nicely polished floorboards of a seemingly abandoned building for about ten days and demand sex on command. Every straight guy's fantasy come true.

Probably not. Wanking on command with three cloaked freaks staring at you is not actually a trademarked straight male fetish the last time I checked. Neither is being fucked by a chick with a strap-on while chained to the floor (again, nicely polished – they knew he was a dancer). OK, I get it. It’s a feminist film. And I am way into feminism, but really, this little morality tale gets overwhelmed by its own sense of purpose. The basic premise is this: women can rape men and get away with it because no self-respecting straight guy is ever going to report it. (In one scene Daniel tries to report the incident to two macho cops but pretends out of embarrassment that it was a male friend who was abducted by three women. They laugh and call his "friend" a lucky bugger). The Book of Revelation is not heavy-handed simply because of the rape scenes: these moments actually sustained what was otherwise a rather tepid and overlong thesis about (as you’d imagine a nervous Press Kit would put it) "thematics of sex and power."

And thematics is what dancers do best, especially when Meryl Tankard is your choreographer. When released back into the world by his hooded captors Daniel goes on a nicely choreographed sex binge. Motivated by finding his rapists and some retribution (in line perhaps with the title's Biblical allusions), Daniel's task is difficult because he only has a few distinguishing markers to go on: grey robes, nice perky tits, shaved pussy, red fingernails and some mysterious looking tattoos - the kind of sexually coded tattoos popular I'm sure in cleavage and hip areas at present. He fucks every sexy woman in Melbourne (straight male fantasy pay-off?), in search of these elusive markers. Counting his conquests on the wall, Daniel is a like a prisoner wishing away the days until probation. These scenes were great because they suggested the experience of being raped for men has a Janet Frame quality (as seen in Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table when poor genius Janet writes all those crazy things on the wall of the "loony bin"). Another great thing about The Book of Revelation is seeing the entire female cast of The Secret Life of Us being utilised (Anna Torv, Deborah Mailman, Sibylla Budd, Nina Liu). And then there’s the long overdue comeback of Nadine Garner – my personal favourite Aussie TV star of the twentieth century appearing briefly. Can someone please give her another starring role? Preferably with Justine Clarke as her sidekick.

Look, edgy independent films usually turn me on, and sometimes the really pretentious ones make it into my DVD collection. But as much as I wanted to like The Book of Revelation, I must admit I was frankly pissed off because I had expected better from Kokkinos. No stranger to controversy, her first feature Head On (1998) was one of the best Australian films of the nineties. Based on Christos Tsiolkas'
novel Loaded, Head On was a tour de force joyride through seamy gay Melbourne where Greek boy Ari (Alex Dimitriades) can’t seem to reconcile cock and Greek culture (strange, but true). Perhaps I expected The Book of Revelation to be on par. Well, it's compelling, sure, because not many other Australian films dare go there. And Kokkinos knows this because she basically thought she was making a French film. It's like she rented Catherine Breillat's back catalogue at Blockbuster and decided:

"Yeah, women can be cunts and feminists, and I want to explore that. You know, straight men have had it really, really hard – especially straightboy dancers. Look, they go through life being accused of being sissyqueers when their sensitivity is so much more complex than some gay conflation. Maybe if a straight boy dancer gets raped by three masked women, the story will really fuck with convention."

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