Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Liberté is a weird combination of sexual liberation and sexual repression happening at the same time. In the film we follow a group of high society “swingers” in 18th century France having a sexual romp in the woods. It’s a beautiful mixture of the bath house scene in Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, the nightclub scenes in Friedkin’s Cruising and the climactic orgy scene at the end of Brian Yuzna’s Society (early on in Liberté we hear agonizing screams coming from the woods and I was immediately reminded of the screams coming from the bath house in Post Tenebras Lux). I enjoyed this movie a lot but I also felt the need to cleanse myself afterwards (for those of you familiar with the aforementioned films I compared Liberté to, you should understand). I don’t mean to get too gross but you could almost smell this movie at certain points. But perhaps that’s part of the point of the film. An unabashed/unflinching look at sex & sexuality which can be "gross" at times (it should be noted that bathing practices were a little different in the 18th century so the smells must have been extra potent).
There’s a very “matter of fact” approach in the acting style which highlighted things. There’s no guilty or surprised looks on the faces of the actors as they touch, fondle, screw & suck their way through the film. This hammers home the idea of their sexual liberation. The deadpan emotionless looks on the faces of the actors implies they aren’t ashamed of what they're doing. However, they are off in the woods secluded from the rest of the world which obviously implies some kind of shame or discretion. No matter how comfortable they are together, they all know this is something that can’t be done out in the open. 
I know I compare a lot of things to Bresson but the Bresson comparison is very valid here. Not only is the acting style in Liberté similar to films like L’Argent & The Devil Probably, but, like Bresson, Albert Serra uses (some) non-professional actors.

This felt like a callback to the films of the New French Extremity. If I went in to Liberté blind without knowing the actual director (Albert Serra) I would have thought it was made by the likes of Bertrand Bonello, Francois Ozon or Marina De Van (all varsity lettermen of the New French Extremity scene).
Liberté takes place in the woods and I was reminded of the opening sequence of Bonello’s Tiresia (another film that’s partially about sexual repression and sexual deviancy). In Tiresia we follow Lucas Laurent cruising the woods for prostitutes and if you take out the modern wardrobe (Tiresia is set in 2003), you'd think the events in the film were overlapping with Liberté (it should be noted that Liberte co-star Lliana Zabeth worked with Bertrand Bonello on The House Of Tolerance which also deals with similar subject matter)

Tiresia / Liberté

It also isn't too far-fetched to compare the events of Liberté to certain moments in Ozon's See The Sea (a movie that has a pretty memorable cruising scene in the woods)

See The Sea / Liberté

Or the more recent Stranger By The Lake...
Stranger By The Lake /

As for direct influences, Albert Serra was open about the fact that the look of the film was inspired by the artwork of François Boucher & Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard...

The events of Liberté brought me back to my three years of taking history of architecture in college where we learned about how (some) famous opera houses and music halls were designed with side rooms that were used for sexual romps and other debaucherous encounters.

Normally a film about sex has a tone or an overall ambiance that matches the subject matter. But that’s not really the case here. Liberté is intentionally cold which isn’t something that you don’t want to associate with sex. There is a softness & tenderness to some of the performances but at the end of the day Liberté is cold. I like to think that approach was intentional as to not fully distract from the beautiful backdrops & costume design. Sex is a beautiful thing (I don’t think Serra believes otherwise) but it can also be weird & strange. I imagine the average human being that enjoys having sex would think twice about joining in on the events presented in Liberté. There’s a “fluid” ambiguous feel to everything that not everyone would be down with (I certainly wouldn’t be). Helmut Berger’s presence in the film alone just adds to the sexual freeness & ambiguity as he’s known for his more “fluid” roles over the years.

Albert Serra uses Berger in the same way that he used Jean Pierre Leaud in The Death Of Louis XIV which is less of a performance and more like an artifact of the history of cinema he brings with him...
Helmut Berger in Liberte
Helmut Berger in The Damned

On the surface, Liberte comes off as a tool strictly to shock the viewer. But if you go a littler deeper (no pun intended), you’ll see that the events in this film branch off to everything from art to architecture and politics (this film is actually part of a larger multi-part/multi-media project). Liberte is also a reminder that a lot of the New French Extremity was rooted in and inspired by classic art, architecture & literature. There was a lot more to that scene than just shocking imagery.

I don’t know exactly where this movie ranks/sits on my “best of the year” list but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since first watching it over a month ago and that counts far more than some placement on a list...


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