Reviews of Sebastiane
Displaying all 3 reviews
For thousands of years people have been looking backwards through the lens of history to imagine a more sacred and simple time. Much to the disappoint of those who choose to search, there have always been works of art that interrogate this notion. Set in the 4th century in a desolate Roman outpost, Sebastiane explores the two strongest desires of human beings: sex and freedom. Slow and strange, the film unpacks the thoroughly timeless prejudices faced by anyone whose desires fall left of the dial. Ironically, the sexually charged soldiers treat homosexuality as a distasteful yet hardly sinful indulgence that simply occurred along the spectrum of human sexuality. However, religious autonomy merited full punishment. The film also identifies a few universal tropes of sexual behavior including the longing for power and beauty. Scenes between Sebastiane and outpost commander Severus are marked by Severus’ brutal lust for Sebastiane’s virginal purity, which is countered by Sebastiane’s deeper desire to purify Severus with love. Meanwhile, director Derek Jarman demonstrates the fight or fuck instinct latent in all men, which tends to unveil itself in moments of boredom and drunkenness of which there are plenty on this most peculiar Roman holiday. The many forces of love and hate collide in the film’s grossly affecting climax, soundless except for the winds of time. An undeniably powerful film underscored by music from Brian Eno and an audacious all Latin script, Sebastiane succeeds in leaving a profound mark on any viewer willing to call into question the sanctity of the past.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Genre: Drama, History
My second film of Derek Jarman, his feature-length debut co-directed with Paul Humfress, it was quite a talking-point and a rousing art film in light of firstly, it speaks entirely in Latin and secondly, the interpretation of the anecdote of Saint Sebastiane was quite a stir and prompted some severe controversy at the time when it being released owing to a blatant male nudity exposure, and it brazenly features many homo-erotic scenes. And afterward, the film’s notoriety has never ceased to prevail, especially considering the untimely decease of Derek Jarman.In my instant response, with its gritty fibre, the film bears a resemblance of a dated pornography, an astonishing gambit is the opening dancing sequence of Lindsay Kemp with his troupe, which is both campy and filthy. Soon the film takes a prompt locale changeover to an arid desert where Sebastiane and other soldiers are being exiled, with a non-female premise, the masculinity carries the day, the camera lingers on the sinewy male bodies restlessly (not only Sebastiane, other soldiers are all model-designed male mannequins, maybe an OTT Neil Kennedy could not excluded by a strict criterion), slow-motions are strenuously pressed into service while two soldiers passionately caressing each other in the water. By contrast, the actors are plain numb and wooden, better serving as statues than line-readers which as if the lines are beyond their comprehension, actually the use of Latin is a ballyhoo to the max.
For me Derek Jarman has so far become an odd number to appreciate, after a throbbing viewing of CARAVAGGIO (1986, an encouraging 8/10), regrettably, SEBASTIANE backfires much stronger than I would expect, a low 4 out of 10 bursts out of my heart without any wavering, even Brian Eno cannot save it this time.
- Currently 2.0/5 Stars.
An oddity. Part cinematic affirmation of homosexuality (nothing so unavoidably gay in the semi-mainstream cinema to that point), part sword n’ sandals romp (almost tempted to call it a nudie picture in the spirit of earlier British nude films which it sometimes mirrors), part idiosyncratic exercise in dog Latin and part selective history. It’s not even whole Jarman (co-direction credits go to Paul Humfress), but many of his familiar themes start here.
So what have we got? The thin story is almost irrelevant (Sebastian is exiled to a remote military outpost by a capricious Emperor, spurns the advances of a Roman general and is martyred for his frigidity) and an odd choice for a affirmation of homosexuality albeit one that afford scope for plenty of well-oiled nudity and, another first, British cinema’s first erect penis (of course being Britain, it depends on which aspect ratio the film is presented in, so a nice Anglo-Saxon fudge, but an censorship first nevertheless). To me it’s all about unapologetically thrusting a gay sensibility into the sunlight (quite literally) after years of mainstream trepidation and underground experiments. It’s a narrow sensibility but plaudits for just getting it to the cinema on a shoestring budget from a largely untried production team.
Instead we have a film that is more a kind of collegiate experience for its contemporary audience than purely an exercise in storeytelling and cinematic art. Just going out and queing-up to see such a film in broad daylight in 1976 justifies its existence. As it is its prettily photographed, scores some laughs with its playful use of the Latin dialogue (not quite Monty Python ‘Bigus Dickus’ territory, but not far off – look out for the sparring beatles and ‘Maria Domas Alba’), sports an evocative score by Brian Eno and set Jarman off on an unexpected career as one of Britain’s most iconoclastic directors with a very personal eye on the world.
Never quite the sum of so many parts, but important for just being there.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.