SXSW Film Review: The Ceremony

A lush, articulate lens on dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet

The Ceremony is a jewel-box of a film – lush and articulate in its evocation of the world and relationships of French author and dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet. It purrs and thrums.

The documentary – the first feature for director Lina Mannheimer – smartly cuts between sparse but telling interviews with the lady herself (along with four others in her circle) and a highly theatrical, and thus cinematically stylized, set of sadomasochistic tasks. These are based on the detail-oriented fantasies found in Robbe-Grillet’s writings and practice: Two elegantly clad women on all fours balance 19th-century candelabras, while elsewhere two men are forced to act like wild beasts at the bottom of a stairwell. Robbe-Grillet, feeling generous, throws them table scraps from a silver platter. Repetitive, evolving, and inwardly-focused, the documentary enacts a kind of ceremonial structure – plumbing the depths of Robbe-Grillet’s closest relationships. These include the many years she spent married to filmmaker and novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet until his death in 2008 as well as her current contract with fellow dominatrix Beverly Charpentier.

We will only make passing reference to the polite piece of aesthetic smut that has middle-aged ladies writing “Christian Grey” in their day planners – The Ceremony unintentionally but usefully makes quick work of such broad popular cultural representations. No psycho-geographic detours into overly facile explanations for kink (forever banish the thought that sadomasochism springs from a troubled childhood or “daddy issues,” mon petit). The emotional lives of Robbe-Grillet and her familiars play the melody in this documentary, while their collective fantasies sing the descant. A most welcome refrain.

The Ceremony

SXGlobal, World Premiere
Monday, March 16, 6:30pm, Violet Crown
Thursday, March 19, 2pm, Alamo Slaughter

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SXSW Film, SXSW, The Ceremony, Lina Mannheimer, Catherine Robbe-Grillet, SXSW Film 2015

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