“Anatomy of Hell”Classification Challenge
Chief Censor Bill Hastings and “Anatomy of Hell”Classification Challenge
The Classification decision for the French film “L’Anatomie De L’Enfer” (“Anatomy of Hell”) was registered by the Office of Film and Literature Classification on 10 May 2004 (see Appendix below for full copy of decision). The Society president, Mr Mike Petrus, says: “It’s important that film-goers and journalists read about the content of the film before they start attacking the Society’s efforts to have the classification reviewed. A censorship “watchdog” organisation such as the Society that chose to stand by and allow this decision to go unchallenged, is worthless. Furthermore, any such organisation that did not challenge the competency of the Chief Censor over this decision deserves to be called to account by its members. The Society does call into question the competency of the Chief Censor Mr Hastings over this appalling decision to allow this degrading and offensive film into a film festival open to any member of the public 18 years or over, when its content matter so clearly contravenes s. 3 of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 (“the Act”) ”
By law the Office, headed by Chief Censor, Mr Bill Hastings, had to make the classification decision on this film publicly available by publishing it no later than the 10th working day of the month following registration of the decision (it was registered on 10 May) – that is by June 15th 2004. The June monthly List of Decisions had to include all decisions registered in the preceding calendar month (May 2004). By law this List had to be available for public scrutiny during Classification Office working hours from 15 June 2004 onwards. A brief summary of the written decision accompanies some entries in the List of Decisions but the name of the distributor, the applicant for classification (e.g. a particular film festival) and the date the publication was submitted for classification are not given. To obtain the full written classification decision for any publication (film, video, magazine, book etc.) one must make an official information request to the Information Unit of the Classification Office. The Society has found that it can take up to 20 working days to obtain a response.
The Telecom sponsored NZ Film Festival did not make public its festival programme until 15 June 2004. A censorship “watchdog” organisation such as the Society had no way of knowing in advance of 15 June, that the film “Anatomy of Hell”, which it had never heard of prior to the release of the festival programme, was to be in the programme. Such inside knowledge would be available only to those within the senior management of the festival. The line-up of films in the festival are a closely guarded secret up until the release of the programme and is considered commercially sensitive information by film festival organisers. Of course some films are announced earlier in order to promote a forthcoming festival and build up public expectation and interest. “Anatomy of Hell” was not one of these.
The Society made an application on 15 June 2004 to the Classification Office for a copy of all the classification decisions with respect to all films in the NZFF. If the same request had been made earlier, the Classification Office itself would not have been able to respond, as it, like members of the public, was unable to determine precisely which films would be in the programme.
The Society had not received any classification decisions from the Classification Office by 18 June 2004 so it lodged a second urgent request, highlighting specifically its request for reports on the films “Anatomy of Hell” and “Twentynine Palms”. It received these reports on 22 June 2004 (see “Anatomy of Hell” full classification decision below).
In order to seek leave from the Secretary of Internal Affairs, under s. 47 of the Films, Videos and Publications Act 1993 (“the Act”), an applicant for review of any given classification decision must have a copy of the full decision. This is essential, as the applicant must establish a prima facie case for a review, to the satisfaction of the Secretary, by highlighting all matters of concern with respect to the classification decision itself (with reference to the film’s content). It must also demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Secretary that its application is neither “frivolous” nor “vexatious”.
The Society submitted its application for leave, seeking a review, on 28 June 2004. On 2 July 2004 the Secretary granted leave to the Society to apply for a review of the classification of “Anatomy of Hell”. On 5 July the Society submitted its application for a review to the Board president and on the same day made an application to the president under s. 49 of the Act for an interim restriction order with respect to the film. The application was denied by the president in her lengthy 25-page decision dated 12 July 2004.
Under the Act, applications for “leave” with respect to a review, must be received by the Secretary no later than 30 working days after the classification decision is published in the monthly List of Decisions. In the case of “Anatomy of Hell” this period runs from 15 June 2004 to 27 June 2004.
The Society conformed to the letter and spirit of the Act in its applications for review and interim restriction orders. Its timely applications and socially responsible approach to the matter should be commended by the Classification Office and the Board President. Instead the president has seen fit to criticise the Society over its “delay” in making its application. It is clear to the Society executive that the president neither understood the Act or the process of review when she canned the Society over its “delay” in her decision dated 12 July 2004, denying the interim restriction order. The Dominion Post (13 July 2004) picked up on her criticisms in its report on her decision.
WRITTEN REASONS FOR DECISION 12
TITLE OF PUBLICATION Anatomie De L’Enfer
OFLC REF: 400538
Type of Publication: Video Recording
Title of Publication: Anatomie De L’Enfer
Other known title: Anatomy Of Hell
OFLC Publication Reference No: 400538
Decision: Objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years.
Display Conditions: Nil.
Descriptive Note: Contains explicit sex scenes.
The video recording entitled Anatomie De L’Enfer is classified as objectionable except if the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 18 years. This classification is due to the publication’s treatment of matters of sex and violence.
The video recording contains a feature, entitled Anatomie De L’Enfer, translated into English as Anatomy of Hell. The feature, in French language with English subtitles, involves a liaison between a self-destructive woman and a woman-hating homosexual man. The two characters meet accidentally at a gay nightclub where the woman cuts one of her wrists in the toilets before the man finds her and takes her to a doctor. Afterwards she fellates the man in the street and offers to pay him to come to her home for four nights and “watch her when she is unwatchable”. The characters are symbols only, representative of their gender and sexual attitudes, and are never known by name. The majority of the feature is slow-placed and filled with carefully scripted monologues delivered by both characters as they express their desire, their dysfunction and their repulsion for the other. Action takes place primarily in the bedroom of the woman or outside the house. The feature contains extensive nudity and explicit depictions of sexual activity.
The feature deals with matters of sex. The main focus of the film’s plot and dialogue is the fraught nature of sexual interaction between gender, issues of sexuality and the psychological basis of sexual attitudes. The feature opens with the explicit depiction of fellatio between two men in an alleyway. Other explicit depictions are of digital vaginal penetration, the expulsion of a dildo from a vagina and a shot of withdrawal from vaginal intercourse. Erect penises and the vagina and anus of a woman are focussed on in various scenes although sexual activity is predominantly implied. Discussions between the two main characters involve direct references to sexual activity, sexual characteristics and the anatomies of men and women. There is considerable focus on menstrual blood and vaginal secretions and the fear and repulsion these produce in men who hate women. This involves several instances in which the camera focuses closely on female genitalia and public hair to which such secretions cling. The male character digitally penetrates the woman’s vagina in one scene and his fingers are covered in menstrual blood. He smells his fingers and then puts them into his mouth. Other extremely close focus depictions of a woman expelling a dildo from her vagina and of the withdrawal of a penis from a woman’s vagina, along with a gush of menstrual blood and other liquids, are designed to produce a powerfully visceral impact on the viewer. This is intended to add validity to the feature’s expression of the idea of women’s sexuality as ‘obscene’ and of men’s corresponding repulsion. Sexual activity involves a combination of brief but explicitly depicted close-ups and more extensive wide shots of implied activity. One scene involves implied sexual activity between a prepubescent girl and a group of three boys. This is discussed further below.
The feature also deals with matters of violence. There is a subtext of sexual violence in some of the misogynistic dialogue. There are also two or three instances in which violent actions and injuries are depicted. For instance, the man imagines the woman twice in scenarios in which she is hurt or killed. In the first of these the woman is depicted drawing a razor blade across her own throat, causing blood to well out of the incision and drip down her neck. This follows a scene in which the woman goes to the toilets in a nightclub and cuts twice across her wrist causing blood to well up and drip across her white satin skirt. The man comes in and stops her, demanding to know why she has done this. She replies “because I am a woman”. In the final scene, the man pushes the woman over the cliff causing her to fall to her death and her body to be washed back and forth in the waves. It is not clear whether this is real or imagined. These scenes have impact but are coded and intended to demonstrate points about self-destructive compulsions of women, the potency of their blood and men’s desire to mutilate women or see them mutilated. In a later scene the man states that “the fragility of female flesh inspires disgust or brutality. Women depend on one or the other.” It is this supposed dialectic that the feature seeks to examine through both its treatment of matters of violence and matters of sex.
Nothing in the publication falls under s3(2) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act (FVPC Act) 1993. While the feature depicts child nudity and sexual activity among children, these are presented as formative events in the development of the adult characters’ attitudes to sex. The publication does not promote or support, or tend to promote or support, the exploitation of children for sexual purposes. Neither does it seek to make any direct comment on the sexuality of children. Rather, its intention is to establish an intellectual proposition about the sexuality of adults. These matters are explored further below. The feature does contain material that must be considered under s3(3)(a)(iii) the extent and degree to which and the manner in which the publication describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with other sexual or physical conduct of a degrading, dehumanising or demeaning nature and s3(3)(a)(iv) a section dealing with the extent and degree to which, and the manner in which, the publication describes, depicts, or otherwise deals with, sexual conduct with or by children or young persons, or both.
Elements of degrading, dehumanising and demeaning sexual and physical conduct are inherent in the subject matter of the feature. Examples of its depiction or expression in dialogue are frequent. For example, in one scene the man draws around the woman’s anus and vagina with a red lipstick and then around her mouth as she sleeps. He then attempts unsuccessfully, to engage in intercourse with her. In another scene, it is implied that the man inserts the handle of a large three-pronged gardening tool into an unspecified orifice, presumably the woman’s vagina, while she sleeps. He then sits back with a drink to observe the tableau he has created with the garden implement protruding from the woman’s body. These activities are degrading and dehumanising of the woman and she also demeans herself by her lack of reaction. Nevertheless, they are intended as statements about the nature of orifices and of penetration and the essentially degrading and demeaning cycle involved in penetrative sex.
As previously mentioned, the feature contains a scene in which the woman remembers an incident from her childhood when she and three boys “played doctor”. In the scene, a prepubescent girl lies under a bush with her underpants around her ankles and her skirt pulled up to reveal her genitals. The camera focuses briefly on the semi-nude girl during which her labia and genital area is depicted. It is then implied that the three giggling boys use the arm of a pair of spectacles to penetrate her vagina. One of them touches some vaginal secretion left on the end of the arm of the glasses and they laugh and indicate their fascination and distaste for the viscous substance. The scene is brief and used to provide background for the attitudes of a woman and her views on men. She states, in voice over “a girl is a man’s sickness”. The publication therefore depicts sexual conduct among children but the manner in which it deals with this subject is, while challenging of taboos around child sex and nudity, both serious and non-exploitative.
The dominant effect of the publication is of a thought-provoking feature made by French auteur Catherine Breillat, in which she seeks to establish a proposition about sexual desire and repulsion and to explore the deep-seated sexual basis of misogyny. Despite some explicit depictions of sexual activity and the challenging nature of some of the sexualised nudity contained in the feature, its exploration of these issues is primarily made through dialogue. The feature’s subject matter is both confrontational and challenging. Nevertheless, the viewer is merely being taken through a carefully argued intellectual exercise with the artificial and staged nature of much of the action and dialogue decreasing the impact of some of its explicit depictions of sex and violence. For this reason it cannot be said to promote or support, or tend to promote or support, any of the matters in s3(2) of the FVPC Act. Intended for exhibition to the public on the wide-screen as part of a festival of new and interesting cinema from around the world, the feature should generate considerable debate and discussion amongst viewers, who may already be familiar with the director’s work.
The publication’s extensive and
explicit treatment of matters of sex and its treatment of
matters of violence mean that it is likely to be injurious
to the public good if made available to any other than the
adult audience for which it is clearly intended. Younger
viewers will not have the necessary maturity to adequately
assess the feature’s content or to analyse the statements it
makes. Anatomie De L’Enfer is, therefore, restricted to an
audience of persons who have attained the age of 18 years.