Color, 2010, 80m.
Directed by Carlos Atanes
Starring Ana Mayo, Marina Gatell, Ignasi Vidal, Paco Moreno
FortKnox Audiovisual (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) / DD2.0
Color, 2010, 80m.
Readers of this site's regular Sick Picks spotlight may remember several installments back featuring a look at Codex Atanicus: Three Wild Tales,a compendium from Spanish-born avant garde director Carlos Atanes. If you thought his short work sounded bizarre, his forays into feature-length territory are no less outrageous as evidenced by Maximum Shame, billed as "an apocalyptic fetish horror musical chess sci-fi weird feature movie." Well, that's a decent place to start anyway.
The film more or less takes place in a warehouse during an apocalyptic era in which a cruel dominatrix queen (Gatell) manipulates everyone else in a game of human chess including the newest arrival, a man (Moreno) who slipped through a black hole under his bed while under the belief that the world was going to be sucked up by a black hole. Dubbed the rook in her private game, he has a hole gashed into his throat and has to watch as his numerically-obsessed girlfriend from the other side (Mayo) joins him and becomes one of the bishops, which comes complete with crazy S&M gear.
Every viewer will probably come from this film with a different interpretation, but on the most superficial level, its cheap and grungy aesthetic and proclivity for clinical but fascinating kinky imagery owes a strong debt to some of the seedier erotic cinema of the '70s and '80s, with nods ranging everywhere from Gwendoline and Dr. Caligari to The Story of Joanna. There's nothing really sexy per se about the activities here, though the simulated perversity on display definitely makes this one for audiences willing to take their movies on the stronger side. It's also complete with several moments of grotesque surrealism, including an indelible bit with a woman in a looking glass spewing chewed-up noodles at her audience.
Shot in English with a cast whose language skills vary wildly across the board, Maximum Shame is definitely not something you'd want to tread into accidentally. It made the rounds at several European film festivals and would certainly benefit from being viewed late at night when your brain is more susceptible to oddball narratives like this, and love it or hate it, you've never seen anything else quite like it. The DVD available in the US is a burn-on-demand version, and while the video quality is fine all things considered, the aspect ratio looks a bit wonky. (Click on any of the frame grabs here for a full representation.) It appears the anamorphic 1.78:1 original was formatted flat instead, though it's also vertically squeezed a bit; if you have a widescreen TV and force it out to anamorphic, it looks wider than normal as well. On the other hand, if your DVD player (or computer) has an X-Y scaling option so you can control the aspect ratio more precisely, it can be fixed manually. In any case, if you have this nutty disc in your hands, just fiddle with the TV display settings until it looks most pleasing to your eyes, since the film will still be completely off the wall regardless of the image's shape.
Reviewed on 11/27/11.