Maîtresse

Lawrence Street Workshops continue their Film Night series with a little Gallic S&M. John Higgins is thrilled

The Lawrence Street Workshops is a self-sustaining arts complex in the middle of Belfast that has received not a single penny of arts funding in the 24 years of its existence.

LSW is like a microcosm of the Belfast arts scene on a grass-roots level: a weird combination of angry, barking middle-aged men smoking tight, tight rollies and beautiful women, usually, but not always, Spanish.

The people there, like the place itself, are rough hewn, and tonight’s cinematic experience reflects that: a DVD projected from a lap-top onto a torn curtain.

Cian Donnelly, who runs the LWS's Film Night series, has attempted to replace the ripped screen (the tears run vertically down it, effectively cutting it into three so that every image looks like a medieval triptych). Predictably, though, the artists objected, and the slashed screen has returned.

This is the LSW's Film Night 10. The nine prior cinematic feasts have run the gamut of the most hallucinatory excesses of 20th century cinema. The set up doesn’t lend itself to CGI or 3D, unless it’s the sort of 3D you associate with a man in a lizard suit wading out of the sea to wreak havoc on a balsa wood Tokyo.

So we’ve seen Cocteau’s hypnogogic essay Blood of the Poet and Kenneth Anger’s psychedelic Satanism amongst others, and one of my own favourite films, Jaromil Jires’ luminous Valerie and Her Week of Wonders also received an extremely rare airing.

Connelly has programmed all of the previous Film Nights, but for the tenth installment he has thrown open the floor to the public. Tonight’s film, Barbet Schroeder’s 1976 feature Maîtresse, is introduced by Eimear Quiery. The film follows Olivier – an extraordinarily fresh-faced Gerard Depardieu – new in town and looking to partake of a little light crime.

He and a friend meet a woman, Ariane (Bulle Ogier) whose plumbing needs fixing. (Not a euphemism.) On discovering that the downstairs landlord is away, Olivier resolves to return and rob the place only to discover that the downstairs apartment is Ariane’s dungeon, that she is a professional dominatrix and that she owns a very angry dog.

After being forced to act out some of Ariane’s sado-masochistic games the pair begin a love affair that seems compromised by Olivier’s inability to understand Ariane’s lifestyle. He attempts to rescue her from it, believing she is frightened in her job and controlled by a mysterious older man.

Maîtresse is an unusual film. It seems almost like two films rubbing along side each other – one a gently romantic odd-couple comedy, the other a moderately hardcore sub-domination film.

When it was first considered for release by the British Board of Film Censors in 1976 it was banned from release, the board’s examiner stating that the film was 'miles in excess of anything we have released in this field'. Indeed there are graphic scenes of flagellation, and on one occasion a man gets his penis nailed to a plank of wood, shot in loving detail.

In 1981, Maîtresse was resubmitted and, following nearly five minutes of cuts, was finally released in Britain with an X certificate. In 2003 it was submitted for a third time and emerged unscathed, which is more than you can say about that chap’s penis.

The LWS's Film Night series is ongoing, with films showing every second Wednesday, and anyone can submit films for consideration, subject, of course, to Connelly’s scathing approval.

Up-coming films include Picnic at Hanging Rock and Kaurasmaki’s The Man without a Past. It’s an evening of free, quality cinema in a relaxed and comfortable environment where drinking during the show is actively encouraged.

Visit the Lawrence Street Workshop Facebook page for more information.

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