This film is dominated by an icy blue. In a monumental building a group of scientists submit women to obscure and inhuman experiments, in which sexuality and cruelty constantly merge into one another. When the film was released, this horrifying game of power and powerlessness was condemned severely by a militant group of feminists. The criticism was undeserved. After all, ‘Pentimento’ is an art-historical term for a hidden image underneath the actual image giving an indication of how the latter evolved to its current state. The film does not endorse the lopsided power relations in our world but actually challenges them.
These afflictions are created by the imagination of a Japanese surgeon. Perhaps there is a connection to the past as soldiers were involved in torture practices. Zwartjes invites us into his films world: war, concentration camps, authority, oppression, power lust, sex, torture. Yet the film does not comment on that world, but – as Gerry Waller, in a review described in NRC Handelsblad – is an instinctive expression of Zwartjes’ experiences. Pentimento is a painting in which images in the film are exposed but where its truth lies is behind the images.
Frans Zwartjes (Alkmaar, 1927) is a filmmaker, musician, violin maker, draughtsman, painter and sculptor. In the late sixties he causes a furor with artistic black-and-white films in which heavily made up and over-dressed actors (such as the performance artist Moniek Toebosch) are caught in a web of sexually loaded power games; hysteria, psychosis and cruelty are among his regular themes. The oeuvre of Zwartjes, once called “the most important experimental filmmaker of his time” by the American essayist Susan Sontag, includes over fifty films.
In 1968 Zwartjes was one of the first Dutch visual artists to make use of film: initially as a record of his performances, but quite soon after as an independent medium, perfectly suited to his way of creating visual art. Zwartjes did everything himself: camera, sound, editing and even the developing in the laboratory. He would work with non-professional actors among his friends, and filmed in and around his own house. What he really preferred… read more
"Pentimento": a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas, which comes from Italian, meaning ‘repentance’. I think the definition conveys very explicitly that this is not an exploitation film, but a subversive work of art from a brave filmmaker. It may be abhorrent, but it's also brilliant, with an important and unique voice.
a psychotic atrocity exhibition. in the international style. rivers of ectoplasm merge in the night. subspace traces this cartography. me(n)tal fatigue. i want more life. we are the instruments of our own evil. the synthesizer throb, portends to some semblance of emotional espionage. miles to go before we sleep. and on the proscenium, and on the playbill: "a language of signs." -a. artaud.