6. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (dir. Park Chan-wook)
The opening installment of South Korean director Park’s vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance explores the dangers of political extremism, with plenty of torture along the way. In a country that only became a democracy in the late ‘80s, it struck a raw nerve.
5. Fat Girl (dir. Catherine Breillat)
Breillat’s masterpiece examines teenage libido, sibling rivalry and questions of consent – its centerpiece is a 10-minute scene in which a boy talks a 15-year-old virgin into having anal sex with him as her younger sister looks on. Not surprisingly, it was briefly banned in Ontario.
4. Audition (dir. Takashi Miike)
Prolific director Miike’s feminist revenge fantasy starts out as a deceptively placid drama about a lonely widower’s search for a suitably submissive new wife. He finds a former ballerina who turns out to be adept in creative new uses for acupuncture needles. Miike’s tone suggests a Japanese domestic soap opera on bad acid.
3. In the Realm of the Senses (dir. Nagisa Oshima)
Oshima, known for his politically and stylistically radical ‘60s work, broke Japanese taboos by explicitly showing genitalia and real intercourse in a film about a woman addicted to sex in a country addicted to war. There’s no doubt where his own preferences lie.
2. Salò (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini)
During World War II, a group of Fascists kidnap a bunch of teenagers and rape them, force them to eat shit and torture them. Despite the period setting, Pasolini intended Salò as an indictment of ‘70s Italian consumerism – it’s so angry that one wonders how he could possibly have followed it up if he hadn’t been murdered shortly following its completion. The film is still banned in Australia, and a gay bookstore in Cincinatti was charged with obscenity for selling it, although the charges were later dropped.
1. Un Chien Andalou (dirs. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali) By slicing a woman’s eyeball with a razorblade near the beginning of Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel and Dali created an image that’s still disturbing and startling. Beyond that, it’s a powerful metaphor for their desire to go beyond what other filmmakers had achieved and create a truly Surrealist film. The rest of Un Chien Andalou consists of disconnected images, leaving narrative far behind. If artsploitation begins here, the avant-garde does as well.
Steve Erickson is a freelance critic who lives in New York. He writes for Gay City News, The Nashville Scene, the Tribeca Film Festival’s website, ArtForum, Film Comment and other publications.