UN CHANT D' AMOUR (SONG OF LOVE) (director/writer: Jean Genet; cinematographer: Jean Cocteau; editor: Gavin Bryars; cast: Java, André Reybaz, Coco Le Martiniquais, Lucien Sénémaud; Runtime: 25; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nikos Papatakis; A Cult Epics Release; 1950-France-silent)

"Curio underground short experimental film about gay life in prisons."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This curio underground short experimental film about gay life in prisons was the only film directed by France's gay bad boy, ex-convict, gadfly, playwright, poet and novelist Jean Genet. It's shot in noirish black and white and is eerily silent. Meant originally for Parisian gay porn collectors, it was banned in France upon initial release in 1950. In the 60s American experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas smuggled the print into the US and showed the film in New York, which resulted in his arrest. His case went on to become one of the better known censorship incidents of the 1960s. It has since been released on a DVD by A Cult Epics. Song of Love richly covers the following themes in its 25 minutes: a homoerotic nightmare/fantasy about Parisian prison life, voyeurism and references the damaging sexual repressions of the time.

It tells of two gay prisoners (both nonprofessional actors) in adjoining cells, separated by a concrete wall, who are intent on masturbating while a prison guard looks pleasurably at each of the well-built studs through a peephole. The two spend a lot of time dancing in their cells, and communicate through knocks on the wall and by passing a straw through a small hole where one of the prisoners blows cigarette smoke through it into the open mouth of his buddy neighbor. The disapproving guard enters the cell of the cigarette smoker to administer a belt whipping and then forces a gun into the man’s mouth to suck on. The prisoner thinks of himself in a pastoral setting with his prison love interest to block out the reality of his torturous real situation. It ends with the guard getting off from his night shift in the morning and the two lively prisoners passing a bouquet of flowers with a key attached to the stem across the adjoining prison bars.

Because of all the controversy attached to its release, it became a better known film than it probably deserved. Later it was disowned by Genet, who called it a "pornographic misfire." Nevertheless it was lyrically shot by an uncredited Jean Cocteau, and is more than of passing interest for its campy presentation.

REVIEWED ON 2/13/2008        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"