There are movies that are devised from formulas developed to serve (and be served by) the Demographic ..... and then there are those rare films that create their own audience. Unfortunately, when Makavejev first unleashed his Sweet Movie in 1974, most interested parties of influence saw fit to have it banned, and the filmmaker himself was exiled (along with some cast members) from his native Yugoslavia for nearly 15 years.
Multi-mega kudos to Criterion for rescuing this now very alive and relevant explosion of a movie from near-obscurity. Beautifully restored, looking and sounding better than I remembered it, and including in this edition interviews and more in-depth facts about the making and history of this one-of-a-kind movie, watching it again restored in this viewer an appreciation of artists who put themselves way out on a line to give life to a vision, one that can become more relevant over time, despite overall condemnation at its initial release. As stated in the accompanying literature, there are countries where the movie is banned for any sort of distribution, to this day.
The dual story line, about two Women of Earth (Miss Monde 1984 and Captain Anna Planeta), is interwoven in a montage-like format that lashes out at Capitalism and Communism, spits in the eye of all manner of creative or sensual oppression, and does so in a take-no-prisoners satirical fantasy sense that helps lighten up the otherwise dark and intense subject matter. As Makavejev explains in an interview, had he tried to do any of it seriously, it would have hampered his film's acceptance all the more so, for it was fully his intent to make contact with his audience in an entertaining, circus-style (although somewhat abstract) manner. Anna Planeta commandeers a sort of ghost ship, Survival (sporting a huge carving of Karl Marx's noggin on front), through the canals of Amsterdam; she is a phantom, a political prostitute, and a reluctant predator, attracting victims with sex, candy and propaganda. She is joined by a nameless sailor who wears a cap from the Battleship Potemkin (another phantom?), and despite her warnings that her sweetened cargo is rife with corpses, he is swept up in the happy delirium of the Survival's relentless voyage to ...? Meanwhile, Miss Canada is inspected by a notable gynecologist on The Crazy Daisy Show, wins the title of Miss World 1984 along with an arranged marriage to a Texas milk tycoon who wants to buy Niagara Falls. The wedding night doesn't go so well, and next thing she knows she is knocked out, packed into a suitcase and shipped off to Paris ..... at which point things get weird on a Candide level. Much of the movie's final third, involving a near-explicit sex dance for young boys and some truly disturbing performance art (which was entirely improvised by Otto Muehl's Viennese Therapy Commune) involving eating, excreting, self-mutilating and acting like babies is certain to elicit squirms, and a private first viewing is highly recommended. Although, if you really wanted to mess with people at a party, play this film and follow it with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
As mentioned earlier, the included extras deepen the experience of the film, as well as introduce a welcome sense of normalcy after viewing. One outstanding addition is star Anna (Planeta) Prucal's interview about the effect the film had on her life (she was one of those who was exiled), and a stunning performance of a song from the film that will induce tears. Her blissfully unbound performance as Captain Anna carries Sweet Movie with a courage that is near unmatchable in cinema. No less courageous is the beautiful Carole Laure, whose surreal odyssey in the parallel reality we share in a nearly unspeaking performance, and whose undulations in a vat of chocolate syrup will linger long in the viewer's memory.
A hard film to recommend, but great for one of those Dare-Yourself-To-Sit-Through-It evenings, Sweet Movie's return down the canal is certain to open up a whole new generation of discussion with its resurrection into the digital archives. The title itself is its own expletive; but like any significant work, its "meaning" is wholly about the effect of its experience.