Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm
First Run Features
You know that episode of Mad Men when Peggy discovers a special use for the Relaxicizor? The delicious surreptitiousness with which the device's best use was treated seemed — especially in the pre-sexual revolution milieu of Mad Men — like a bit of anachronistic fuddy-duddiness. However, as Passion & Power makes abundantly clear, the array of buzzing, pulsating things that ladies apply to their nether regions has long been taboo. Even in our supposedly sexually open times, the notion of self-pleasure still has something of a sordid whisperiness to it. Filmmakers Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori do a fantastic job at combining an academic history of vibrators and a sociological dissection of the terror evoked by the notion of the female orgasm; the result's a film that is surprisingly light on didactic feminism and thankfully heavy on humor. After all, how can one not snicker a little at the hand-mounted "Stim-U-Lax" device? Still, Slick and Omori manage to show that, although there has been significant technological progress when it comes to tickling those erogenous zones, there has been relatively little evolution when it comes to the societal implications of the resulting gratification. —Jason Ferguson
Takva: A Man's Fear of God
Sometimes, a job promotion ain't all it's cracked up to be. In the case of the quiet and well-meaning Muharrem (played by Erkan Can), the revelations that await him when he's chosen by his mullah to be a money collector for his mosque conspire to not only upend his deeply held religious beliefs, but also throw him into a modern world in which he is none too comfortable. It's appropriate that this 2006 film hails from Turkey; just as Muharrem struggles with the reconciliation of tradition and modernity, of faith and finance, so to do the streets of Istanbul quiver from these same tensions. As Muharrem experiences more and more of the modern world — he never exactly fits into the suit and cell phone he's given — and as he sees more and more of his mullah's craven, un-spiritual financial dealings, his previously well-defined religious outlook gets disoriented. Director Ozer Kiziltan put all he had into this, his debut film, and Takva does occasionally heave from the weight of Kiziltan's multiple subtexts. Still, Takva manages to be both an intimate and personal story with a considerably larger message about religious hypocrisy and the corrupting influence that money can have on even the most (outwardly) pious people. —Jason Ferguson
Chinese auteur Li Yang follows his harrowing Blind Shaft with another excoriating indictment of contemporary China. Blind Mountain finds medical student Bai suckered into a forced marriage in a mountainous provincial village under the false promise of an herbal medicine expedition. It isn't long until she's raped, beaten and worked to the bone, with each of her attempts to escape — like Grace in Dogville — miserably thwarted just when she sees the light. What's most horrifying about Bai's imprisonment is that in the corrupt town, there's nothing horrifying about it at all. So ingrained is the slave-trade practice that the village's citizens don't bat an eye (or else turn a blind one), continuing their parochial duties of corn-husking and pig-feeding unabated. This story of torture and captivity was inspired by true events, and you could easily see this social-realist expose morph into a crass exploitation film at the hands of American backers if we still had dowries here. Shot with ferocious verisimilitude and concluding on a shocking ellipsis of violence, Li's bleak and polemical vision is the kind of film that should change things but probably won't. —John Thomason
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