LA CÈRÈMONIE is a superb work of art depicting sadomasochism as an “infant God’s sacred play” of submission and dominance between consenting, elegant and well-read adults. Those people do have their own definitions of love and sin, yet: “It’s all very complicated” as Beverly Charpentier puts it at a certain point. Well, the human condition is, in general – and here’s where this documentary goes well beyond the S/M topic and starts to touch our souls, gently, like the caress of a whip. Everything is refined and tasteful in Lina Mannheimer‘s début film, which follows Jean/Jeanne de Berg (Catherine Robbe-Grillet) and her circle through their theatrical mises en scène of eroticism in the dark dream surroundings of her French castle. Interviews with the participants and old film cuts from Alain Robbe-Grillet’s oeuvre and private archive complete the documentary.
There is no explicit nakedness at all, but watching those women dominate growling, crawling men raises goosebumps. They have a young girl dance and then slowly walk up close to her like Vampires. There are disturbing moments of darkness, clad in ritualistic symbolism; A stick which could really hurt remains a means to gently prod the submissives; Eggs in stark black, hurled against a mirror, make us jump … and ponder how much of what is shown here might mirror our own freedom of choice or the self-imposed lack thereof. Because all in all an enviable sense of deep contentedness prevails in all interview partners, dominant or submissive; Even age is no problem – though Catherine admits (tearing up a little) that she blindfolds people when she chooses to take off her clothes – she’s well past 80, after all, and beauty to her is a core ingredient to erotic bliss, as is ritual. Candlelight, wonderful interiors and beautifully dressed, accomplished interview partners take S/M out of the “dirty” corner, where Ulrich Seidl put in with his drastic IM KELLER.
Superb, as stated above: Wonderful cinematography, great music, brilliant light, and of course the feat to get close to this exclusive circle of special people. It took Lina Mannheimer about 6 years to get this far. Kudos! Remains to be seen whether 50 SHADES OF GREY will be able to fascinate half as much as THE CEREMONY.