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Anatomy of Hell - Tartan Video UK Print E-mail
User Rating: / 17
Written by Ed Fir   
Friday, 11 January 2008

AKA: Anatomie de l'enfer
Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Written by: Catherine Breillat
Produced by: Jean-François Lepetit
Cinematography by: Yorgos Arvanitis, Susana Gomes, Guillaume Schiffman
Editing by: Pascale Chavance
Cast: Amira Casar, Rocco Siffredi
Year: 2004
Country: France
Language: French (English Subtitles)
Color: Color
Runtime: 85 Minutes (73 Minutes)

Video: PAL R0 (R2)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Digital 5.1
Distributor: Tartan Video

"Anatomy of Hell" brings out a schizophrenic feeling within me.  On the one hand I want to sit and meditate upon what I saw, to let the ideas drag against me like waves receding and then pounding back against the beach (as they do, beautifully, in the film itself).  On the other, I want to laugh-out-loud.  Since I spend most of my time in horror genre circles, I can easily envisage a gorehound, or shockmeister, buying this because of the horrible things it contains, sitting waiting to be viscerally pounded – only to be ultimately confounded by the heavy literate dialog.  I can see them cringing, while at the same time cursing.  I’m pretty damn sure this wasn’t a consideration for Director Catherine Breillat, since I don’t expect she had any expectation of this market segment viewing her work, but kudos to her for bringing us a film that straddles the line as "Salo" did before.

"Anatomy of Hell" certainly has its moments, which at the end of the day might actually be its weakness, since reactions to these moments might overwhelm the more serious points being made.  In the pantheon of films whose shock value makes them standout, it certainly earns its place.  It does it without resort to murder, gory special effects, or wanton violence or rape.  In fact, it does it simply by exposing us all.

There are many different types of films, with extremes at either end, and somewhere in the middle the balance that mainstream cinema exploits.  "Anatomy of Hell" isn’t a mainstream movie, it’s the kind of film mainstream audiences run from.  It’s the kind of movie that unsuspecting pedestrians campaign against, dismiss, and attack – all without ever actually trying to understand what it’s about.  It’s a film made by a woman, and perhaps only a woman could have made it. 

The plot of the film couldn’t be simpler.  Man meets woman, woman offers to pay man to watch her at night in her home, so that he might learn about women and himself.  The man is gay, so sexually he has no interest in her.  However, he’s also human.  That’s it folks.  This minimalist plot is what everything else hangs upon, don’t be expecting extravagant sets or fancy lighting effects, this movie takes place in three locations, and two of those are used only briefly.

However, before I get ahead of myself, how about we cut and paste the “Plot Outline” from the heralded Internet Movie Database?  After all, it’s run by movie fans, and information is posted there by movie fans.  Like me, they sum it up in few words:  “Unpleasant people have unpleasant graphic sex with one another to prove that men and women are unpleasant to each other.”  Yup, that’s it folks.  I don’t know who wrote this, but I’m guessing it was someone who hadn’t bothered to read the subtitles (assuming they weren’t French of course, since all dialog in this film is in French).  It is somewhat amusing when someone writes such a thing, because it says so much more about the person writing it than it does about what they watched.  Actually, it says virtually nothing about the film itself.

One of the problems with a mainstream frame of mind is that the general populace wants to carve a path through our lives, tarmac it, illuminate it with street lights so everything is revealed to be as simple as it really is, and then wants to deprive us of off-ramps.  So, there’s one way to see things, to feel things.  Cinematically this leaves us with a lack of expression, because at this point, everything is a cliché.  Originality is measured in the reversal of genders in lead roles, yes, even in 2005.  "Anatomy of Hell" offends because it burst through the safety rail blazing its own off-ramp.  Not many but emergency crews will follow, but to be honest, I’m not sure how many people have the fortitude to experience the aftermath anyway. 

You see, "Anatomy of Hell" offends by being ordinary.  One can debate the ideas and insinuations behind the film, but you can’t dismiss the visuals.  You see, unsuspecting audiences – and to be frank, I was one – are likely to be pounded by what is graphically shown.  First time through, I missed a lot of the point of this film, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Catherine Breillat must have known she was throwing down the gauntlet.  It worked, because I was a bit dumb-founded.  Thinking of the second viewing (oh the joy of DVD), I am better prepared to sit and think about the bigger picture, of what things mean.  And yes, ever so slightly less shocked.

At its heart, the film shocks by ignoring hyperbole and fictional extremes.  In other words, it’s a little too close for comfort.  These people are so damn normal, yet the things they express, the things they do, are abnormal, without it being portrayed as such.  It’s unsettling.  Everything is muted in the film, from color schemes, to lighting, to the performances.  No-one and nothing is straining at the leash for attention.  However, what it makes us face is the base nature of ourselves, portraying us as mucus, bodily discharge, and collection of pre-cum, spittle, piss, tears, blood and snot.  Yes, these are the things of beauty, of all of us, and at the end of the day we’ve not really come to accept this about ourselves, let alone about members of the opposite sex.

Make no mistake; this is an intelligent and thoughtful movie.  Sure, it challenges because it has an agenda, a point of view.  And hey, you might not be ready to be confronted by some of the ideas.  Why do most people look for affirmation in the films they view, dismissing – and getting actually offensive/defensive – about films that have central ideas they disagree with?  Have we lost the ability to intellectually consider alternative views, to sit and take them in without getting into a fit about it? 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I was able to take onboard everything this movie was truly about (although the one-hour interview with the Director included on the DVD helps).  I’m certainly no better or worse than other audience members.  I suppose the main difference with me was, having sat down not knowing what I was getting into and being nailed to my chair, I was prepped for a second go around.  Okay, so it’s THAT kind of film, okay, okay… let’s go again……

One interesting argument the sometimes rages online is, is this film pornography?  To answer this I turned to my dictionary and found the following definition:  “Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.”  Hmm, seems about right.  Well, to answer this question I’d say – no.  But…. Sort of.  You see, there are “sexually explicit images” for sure.  And yes, the writing here straddles a line.  However, that final portion of the definition is a get-out clause.  No way could I say this film was made where the “primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal”.  In fact, I pity the poor sucker who rents this on the strength of the nudity hoping to get his (or her) rocks off.  Or maybe it’d just be funny?

Alright, to conclude.  What does one make of a film where the two leads are cast as simply “Man” and “Woman”?  What does one make of a film that starts with a hardcore gay sex scene?  What does one make of a film that sets out to explore – and graphically show – things that are “unwatchable”?   And what is there for film fans that simply could care less about gender-politics?

Well, for a start, relax.  Feminism might not be something you’re attuned to, but if you sit back and take it easy, something interesting might be conveyed.  You don’t have to agree with something, and frankly there were times when I’d confess I didn’t even understand it, but go with the flow (which has connotations in this film you wouldn’t believe). 

Sit back, and allow yourself to be submerged in the challenging aesthetics of this film.  It’s probably going to stretch your ability to watch the screen, but it’ll also mentally strap you back, be prepared.  Take the time to try and take it in, and yes, it’ll likely take more than one go around to do that (alright, alright, so I’m talking about myself here, sue me).

"Anatomy of Hell" is a film that makes us face what we really are.  Wrapped around that is an agenda for sure, but at the end I was left with this feeling that we spend way too many lifecycles denying our own bonds to nature.  For that it is wonderful.  After years of the genders battling for their places, "Anatomy of Hell" is a nuclear blast, leveling the playing field in ways you’re likely not prepared for.  Who knows what grows from this purification, and how come purification can feel so…. Dirty?

For all you hot-blooded males out there, this film is not for you and you won’t like it, which is exactly why you should be exposed to it.  But, it is a film for men, not boys.

Yes, it’s that type of film.

Postscript:  If this were a genre effort, I’d have included more detail about precisely what is in this film that is so challenging.  However, when sitting to write this review, I simply felt that such coverage would be trite and disrespectful.  The screen captures were not chosen to be gratuitous; they fairly represent the content of the film.  The only way to appreciate this film is to see it, so I hope I have given incentive enough to do that.


1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Digital 5.1

- Director Commentary
- Original theatrical Trailers
- Photo Gallery
- Extensive Film Notes

The DVD I watched was put out by Tartan on R2, although the disc itself is R0.  It’s a wonderful uncut print.  The main extra is an hour long interview with the Director.  Trust me, you’ll be glad it’s there.  The only gripe is that the box-art claims a running time of “85 Minutes approx” – erm, no folks, it’s 73 minutes.  I did double-check the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to make sure it was uncut, and it is.  Kudos to Tartan for putting this out.  Brave folks.

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Anonymous   | |2009-03-28 19:13:42
Anonymous   | |2009-03-28 19:15:53
thank very good
navid   | |2009-04-14 12:55:43
emadshihata   | |2009-06-24 15:51:42
Anonymous   | |2009-08-01 14:53:51
Anonymous   | |2009-08-01 14:54:43
haider  - anatomy of hell     | |2011-03-11 07:20:20
iwant download this movie free
Chris Mayo  - RE: anatomy of hell     |SAdministrator |2011-03-23 17:44:38
Severed Cinema does not advocate piracy. Plus you can get the film for an
amazing price at for £3.75:
Or for 10.86:
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Last Updated ( Friday, 11 January 2008 )
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