Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)

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Mr Sausage
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Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)

#1 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:13 pm

Seen at the Fantasia Film Festival:

A new wife, pretty, quiet, dolled up, living in a pristine dream home, contemplates a marble: the way the light glints off it, how cool and smooth it is in her fingers, how nice it feels—and then pops it in her mouth and swallows it. Soon come other objects: dice, jacks, a battery, a pin, and her life begins to spiral out of control. Therapists, care takers, and an increasing isolation under her controlling parents-in-law drives her to despair. This was a darling of the festival; it seemed like in every screening I heard critics and audience members listing it as their favourite of the festival. It’s easy to see why: it takes a specific and unusual situation and renders the emotions behind it clearly, with sympathy, and without judgement. But while I shared their enjoyment, I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm. I think the film is let down by its bluntness in attributing cause. The movie is straghtforwardly feminist, and persuasive in its feminism: you leave the film with a good understanding of how it feels to be dominated and rendered powerless by social roles and expectations, and how that can result in extreme physical forms of asserting control. But however clear-sighted and persuasive it is on these points, the film’s ideological commitment is stifling and comes at the cost of ambiguity. Something that is most powerful for being inexplicable, obsession and mental illness, is rendered too explicable. The mysteries of the human psyche are fully explained in political terms, which in practise means reduced to the terms of an argument. So it’s not as strong as In My Skin, a film it superficially resembles, because that latter movie, in addition to being horrifying and unsafe, suggested unreachable depths within its heroine: you felt both that things could be explained and that you could never learn enough or go deep enough to untangle the threads. I can’t love Swallow because I prefer dramatic and psychological complexity to ideological simplification. But the film is so good at getting inside the emotions if its heroine and following the logic it sets for itself that I don’t hesitate to recommend it. It has strengths worth experiencing.

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domino harvey
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Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)

#2 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:19 pm

Your description of Swallow’s extreme pica as feminist parallel makes it sound like an inverse of Margaret Atwood’s the Edible Woman, wherein there instead of everything the protagonist responds to oppressive factors by not being able to eat anything

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Mr Sausage
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Re: The Films of 2019

#3 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:27 pm

Huh. I wonder if it was an influence.

Tho' I suspect the ultimate origin (probably of Atwood's novel too) is The Yellow Wallpaper.

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domino harvey
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Re: Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)

#4 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 14, 2019 1:36 pm

Hmm, I hadn't made the connection in my mind, though Atwood's novel certainly contains a degree of the symbolic madness present in CPG's story. Then again, "the Yellow Wallpaper" is almost surely a default foundational work for all feminist lit of this nature that has come after it

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zedz
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Re: Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)

#5 Post by zedz » Wed Aug 14, 2019 4:10 pm

The film Matteo Garrone made before Gomorra, Primo Amore, seems to belong to the same lineage. Some Italian arsehole (maybe I'm forgetting certain details here) moves his new partner into an isolated house and bullies her into anorexia. I found it extremely unpleasant, but it's proved to be perversely memorable (even if I couldn't remember what the film was called for many years).

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Re: Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)

#6 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Aug 14, 2019 4:53 pm

To keep this going, Han Kang’s novel, The Vegetarian, was translated from the Korean a few years ago and made an impression among lit types. It involves a woman who responds to the patriarchal, repressive aspects of South Korean society by suddenly becoming vegetarian, which it seems is a much more radical act in Korea than the west. It fits the mould of women responding to patriarchy by becoming restrictive and self-controlling in an unhealthy way. It’s a good book, too.

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