REVIEW: Your Flesh, Your Curse
– By James Pemberton
Being screened as part of the recent Starburst Media City Festival, and the first in a double bill of extreme cinema, Kasper Juhl’s YOUR FLESH, YOUR CURSE fits neatly into that category: extreme – but on the level of something approaching or trying to attain a more respectable degree of cinema and one that doesn’t necessarily use the term extreme and underground as an excuse to display as much depravity and degradation normally associated with this area of film.
The story follows the troubled character of Juliet (Damgaard), a young woman who loves to spend most of her time with her friends getting drunk and high and taking as many drugs as she can to numb most of the pain of her life, which seems to have been founded on a troubled and sexually abused past, thanks to her father. Juliet gets money through prostitution and after one uneasy encounter with a client, she and her friend use the money for drugs. Only after her friend runs off with the rest of the drugs and money, Juliet slowly pushes herself into a cycle of self destruction that culminates in her overdosing and then being raped by a stranger, who eventually kills her. She wakes up in what seems to be like a limbo, to be met by a mysterious figure who guides her through a series of sequences in which she relives moments of her life, until this leads her to an unexpected revelation or a form of redemption.
Naturally from the plot synopsis this film does not sound like it’s going to be a barrel of laughs and, for a film on a Saturday evening, that’s not the case, far from it. Yet this is a form of extreme cinema and one that as mentioned before attempts to explore themes and styles that express a further intent from just being a picture featuring overt gore and nastiness. It is harrowing and often repetitive and numbing in its effect of being overtly uncomfortable. Scenes of Juliet being abused, her face being grabbed and mouth being pulled, are both hard to watch and degrading. This might be part of the problem the film will face for many viewers as its central character is forced into a series of scenes of abuse that border on the misogynistic in part and will lead some to decree this film to be so. I can see the director’s intent in the overall narrative and how the film eventually plays out yet even I felt unease at this and questioned whether what we are seeing here is bordering on a sense of female degradation.
It’s no surprise that this film has been or has had some people draw comparisons with Lars Von Trier. If you look at some of that director’s work there are some films which have an almost forced narrative of females having to go through harrowing scenarios to reach a path of redemption. BREAKING THE WAVES and ANTICHRIST (to some extent) are fine examples of this. Yet this is where I would like to go back to YOUR FLESH, YOUR CURSE as even though this film could be cited as humiliating in the scenes of abuse to its female character in that, this same character is also on a path to redemption in some way and maybe the harrowing scenes that happen to Juliet are there as necessary arc to the narrative. Though at the same time you have to remember this is a film that deals in the realm of extreme so the sense of subversion in what we are seeing could be intentional and provocative as Juhl wants to push a reaction out of his audience. It would be easy to go into a negative review of the film citing it as being a piece of trash with high intentions but then that would be taking the quick route. Rather you can view it as a film where a character is forced into a series of unpleasant scenarios, some the fault of her own and some due to a number of bad choices and betrayals. But at the same time it leads to a significant end and a revelation that provokes a sense of something deeper at play here than at first thought.
Whilst it dabbles with higher themes, the film is helped by decent and stylish cinematography which lends an artistic edge and beauty amongst the grime and horror that adds quality to the otherwise underground leanings this film might fall into but certainly wants to elevate from. It’s also boasted by a superb lead performance and physical one from Damgaard who goes through the emotions and humiliations throughout trying to explore the character of Juliet and what sparks her self destruction and the constant abuse she suffers.
It’s not an easy ride and at times it can be a slow one, and as mentioned before certain scenes have a tendency to fall into a repetitive trap and become tiresome in the process. Yet as much as YOUR FLESH, YOUR CURSE will divide, it’s interesting to look at it from the perspective of a piece of extreme cinema in that it sets out to provoke and subvert and it does so in a strong and stylish manner. At only the age of 26 and this being his 7th feature Juhl is certainly a director with a lot of confidence and with this feature alone, a strong desire to provoke, so it will be interesting to see where he will go next.