Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review: Metamorphosis

According to the official website, this film was made as part of the London Gallery’s showing of Titian’s famous Diana and Actaeon, The Death of Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, all depicting stories from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, brought together for the first time since the 18th century. The event also spawned a number of related projects from various poets, contemporary artists, composers, ballet dancers, choreographers and filmmakers, all of whom were invited to share their projects as part of the Gallery’s themed exhibition.

The Death of Actaeon

I’ve always loved the myth of Artemis and Actaeon; perhaps because I’d love the power to turn perverts into deer and have them killed by their own hounds. I know at least three men who would be on the dinner table by now were I to possess this gift, and I suspect you have your share of unwelcome peeping toms. Heck, even rubbernecking neighbours can get on people’s nerves.

So it’s interesting to me that out of the myriad of stories that Ovid retells in Metamorphosis, and the incredible range of human-to-animal/plant/object transformations that it contains, it’s usually the story of Artemis and Actaeon that immediately leaps to mind at mention of the title (either that or Daphne and Apollo).

If Metamorphosis was a school, Actaeon would be its show pupil, so what is it about this story in particular that’s so compelling? Forbidden female beauty? The hunter becoming the hunted? The ironic tragedy of being killed by one’s own faithful dogs?

According to this short film, the appeal lies in the sense of justice and/or vengeance meted out from goddess to man, as disproportionate as it may seem. Unlike the myth, which usually depicts Actaeon accidentally chancing upon the bathing Artemis, the film has him deliberately seek her out in her bathroom, having already made her visibly uncomfortable earlier in the evening when he stares at her suggestively at the dinner table.

Transporting the story to an English mansion during the hunting season (in which Titian’s Diana and Actaeon is hung on the wall), our Artemis stand-in, played by Anna Friel, appears to be the only woman in the house. This, along with her white gown, emphasizes her vulnerability and consequently the predatory nature with which Actaeon (Ed Speelers, still with the world’s most punchable face) initially hunts for her.

His consequential metamorphosis is staged as painful and confusing, not only with antlers erupting all over Actaeon’s body, but with the room itself being invaded by nature, in striking contrast to the baroque opulence of the mansion.

With this, you can’t help but detect a faint air of feminist triumph, not only in the fact that it is clearly Artemis’s hound that leads the hunt for the transformed stag (she’s shown feeding it scraps at the dinner table; it barks a warning when Actaeon enters the bathroom), but in the relish with which she eats the bloody venison that’s been brought to the table after the transformation, eying the empty chair opposite.

Maybe it’s just me, but in this day and age, in which pornography is accessible at the touch of a button and private photographs can be spread with frightening ease across the internet without the permission of the subjects (usually women), it comes as a revelation to see a film that underscores the sanctity of a woman’s privacy and the dire consequences when it is invaded by unwanted eyes.

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