Director: Matthew Saliba
Writer: Matthew Saliba, Andrée-Anne Saliba (French adaptation)
Featuring: Jocelin Haas, Stephanie van Rijn, Lisa Di Capa
Website: The Celery Stalks at Midnight
In the throes of desire, Yan (Haas), the male protagonist in Matthew Saliba's latest film Eroticide, recites mantras on command that throw around pointed words like "loser" and "pathetic"; each phrase - aimed at himself - indulges in self-abuse that affects not only his relationships, but engenders his entire being. Yan craves humiliation, and though he tries to bury these tendencies, he can't even get an erection without the assistance of an insult.
Yan and his girlfriend Elise (van Rijn) are prematurely celebrating an anniversary (they've only been together nine months) with a romantic dinner. They are rudely interrupted by Yan's imposing, foul-mouthed ex-girlfriend Kendra (Di Capa) who bullies both Yan and Elise on their special night. Elise, patient and forgiving, gives Yan another shot; soon, however, Yan is fantasizing about the brutal kind of affection he's only ever received from the unmerciful Kendra.
Eroticide is a deeply intimate look at the complex inter-relationships between these three characters: Yan is a self-loather who yearns to be dominated, demonstrated by his words ("I am a pathetic loser") and actions (licking Kendra's shoes); Kendra finds great pleasure in humiliating Yan, yet doesn't realize - as a person who gets off on dispensing humiliation - she needs Yan just as much as he needs her; Elise's concept of love inhabits its own extreme end of the relationship spectrum, manifesting as harm to herself as a demonstration of her devotion to Yan. The exploration of this sado-masochistic threesome benefits from the richness of Saliba's dialogue; rather than sink into cheap exploitation, his command of the material, and respect for the neuroses of his characters, elevates the story to thought-provoking levels.
Yan's story, told through the lens of an empathetic Saliba, explores the definition of "healthy" relationships in a world where damaged souls rely on delicate connections; they may unravel once troubling secrets are brought to light. When deep-seated psychological idiosyncrasies are unearthed, the lines between "healthy" and "unhealthy" become blurred when it comes to love and sex. Despite the short format, Saliba manages to convey the cyclical nature of abusive relationships, as well as the co-dependency wrought from whatever attraction keeps the abused coming back for more. Better yet, Saliba is not passing judgement on any of these characters; he's merely portraying them in their rawest, most vulnerable state - for better or worse.
Two things stand out in Saliba's film: The first is the refreshing lack of a music score; each scene thrives on genuine emotion without the manipulation of musical cues to coerce viewer experience; The second is Saliba's gimmick free cinematography that utilizes mostly static shots with a focus on body language, as well as the spoken (French and English) and unspoken (passive aggression) languages passing between the characters. Sometimes the language encourages; other times it berates; but throughout it's always the language of desire, no matter how twisted it might become.
It's always a treat to witness a new Sinema Saliba film; with each production, director Matthew Saliba (Vampyros Lesbos, Amy's in the Attic) pushes the envelope of genre cinema with genuinely provocative ideas; he and his small troupe of fearless actors - here with Haas, van Rijn, and Di Capa respectively - transcend the challenges of micro-budget efforts while defying the cliche-ridden landscape of cinema. With every production, it's clear that Saliba establishes trust with his players; he's able to coerce engaging, yet uncomfortable interactions between them. These moments subsequently position the viewer face to face with his or her own inner demons; the result can be therapeutic if we're able to embrace the truths about our own psyches.