cast: Molly Parker, Peter Outerbridge, Jay Brazeau, Natasha Morley, and Jessie Winter Muddie
director: Lynne Stopkewich
78 minutes (18) 1996
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
A hit on the 1997 festival circuit, Kissed is a Canadian film that attempts, much like Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman, to deal is sensitive terms with a sexuality that transgresses the boundaries not only of taste but also of morality. In this case the sexual proclivity being explored is necrophilia.
Even before she reached puberty, Sandra Larson had affection for, and an attraction to, death. Upon discovering a dead sparrow she intuits burial practices and shrouds the body and then slips out at night to bury it, discovering in the process the thrill she gains from touching dead flesh. As she nears puberty, weird outsider Sandra lures her only friend Carol into her little world until the play moves beyond mere burial to primitive atavistic and sexualised rituals, where the pair strip down to their underwear and dance about, until Sandra decides to rub herself with the body of a dead animal. Understandably, the friendship ends there, resulting in Sandra withdrawing back into her own private world until the day comes where she has to deliver flowers to a funeral parlour where she immediately applies for work and later begins to learn embalming. The strange world of the funeral parlour not only gives Sandra access to human bodies allowing her weird fetish to take on a properly sexual element, it also validates her feelings as seemingly everyone working there has a strange relationship with the dead. Once at university, Sandra meets Matt, a resting medical student who falls in love with Sandra so completely and fully that Sandra immediately admits her attraction for corpses. Matt is not only accepting of his lover’s foibles but wants to understand and get involved in that aspect of her life pushing him to want to have sex with a corpse himself and then to emulate and even become one of the corpses Sandra so enjoys.
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Molly Parker is perfectly cast as Sandra (and you might recognise her from the superb Deadwood). Her pale skin and ethereal looks not only match her nature as a deeply sexual outsider, but also match the rhetoric of spirituality that Sandra uses to justify her fetish to herself. Indeed, while Sandra does admit that she “fucks corpses,” the implication is that she somehow helps the souls of the dead pass over and that this is not an experience of the flesh but one of the spirit as the necrophiliac sex scenes are characterised by a shining divine light and rapturous music. The film’s tasteful characterisation of Sandra takes its cue from her characterisation of what it is she does. In fact, it does so completely uncritically, accepting completely at face value Sandra’s rationalisations.
However, underneath the tasteful photography and the sympathetic treatment there lurks an insightful characterisation of necrophilia. Indeed, psychologist Erich Fromm argues that necrophilia is not necessarily a sexual urge; instead it is about the need for absolute and mechanistic control and domination over nature. Pairing it with an urge he terms ‘biophilia’, Fromm characterises dehumanising bureaucracy as a form of necrophilia as it exists in order to remove all traces of humanity and life from the humans it processes. This is intuitively correct if you consider websites such as Necrobabes (which has pictures of people pretending to be dead) and practices such as getting your partner to take a very cold bath and lie still for the purposes of sex. Necrophilia is about having complete control over the object you sexualise. Placed within this context, Sandra’s uncomfortable relationship with Matt makes a good deal of sense. By wanting to become involved in Sandra’s sexuality, Matt is threatening to compromise Sandra’s complete control of her sexuality. When Matt dons a suit and lies flat on his bed, he is essentially “topping from the bottom,” as the fetish community put it, in that he is adopting the behaviour of a submissive whilst maintaining the power… “You will fuck me this way.” In a way, the power dynamics of Matt and Sandra’s relationship are present in all relationships, though not in as extreme a form, as being in a couple invariably requires making compromises and discussing things that you could keep to yourself if you were single.
Nicely acted and cleverly adapted from a short story by Barbara Gowdy, Kissed is a sensitive and interesting look at a decidedly unusual sexuality. Unfortunately, though the film is barely an hour and 20 minutes long, it still feels slightly saggy in parts as director Lynne Stopkewich insists upon long slow arty shots and multiple sex scenes that slow the film down and distract from the issues that the script is trying to deal with. Worth a look but nothing more, particularly given the stingy lack of proper DVD extras.