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Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jarman's brilliant debut, 13 April 2014
This review is from: Sebastiane [DVD] (DVD)
Sebastiane was Derek Jarman's first film, and stakes out his highly individual style and independence as a filmmaker. The story of Sebastian, rejected favourite of the Roman Emperor Diocletian who was subsequently sent into exile and tortured for being a Christian, is essentially a series of scenes of young men in a desert-like landscape who fight and engage in verbal jousting in Latin. The leader, Severus, who tortures Sebastian because he will not fight, seems to decide he will be put to death as a way of dealing with his own love for the young man. Another in the group, Justin, tries to stick up for him always, while there are two other male lovers and a loud-mouthed homophobe. The landscape is unfailingly beautiful, and many of the shots are very striking, especially setting young men in very fetching loincloths against it. These are remarkably cut, quite varied, but always showing off the wearer to brilliant effect. At one point Sebastian does a charming dance for Justin in a short tunic that keeps blowing up like a mini-skirt, revealing this eye-popping underwear. The fact that it is glimpsed and then further hidden, in conjunction with his beard and graceful movements, creates a dizzying confusion of effect which makes Justin's enthusiasm all too understandable, although Severus's brutality is harder to fathom ... another variant on homophobia turned both outward and inward, presumably. The film does have a number of graphic sequences, both sexual and violent, opening with a striking dance of graphic sexual symbolism involving the wearing of huge phalluses. It is spoken throughout in Latin which adds a certain authentic note amid the stylisation. Altogether it is a compelling picture, as striking and iconic, and aesthetic, as Bavo Defurne's more recent short film on the same subject. The DVD also contains a marvellous 40-minute interview with Jarman conducted by Jeremy Isaacs.
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