Monday, 9 November 2009

Spermula (1976)

Now this one is a real oddity. Spermula is a 1976 French science fiction art-house sex comedy with a very marked surrealist influence and large helpings of general weirdness. All that, and Udo Kier as well!

The planet Spermula is facing imminent destruction, and its inhabitants need to find a new home. The Spermulites are invisible bodiless beings who apparently devote their time to intellectual contemplation. Their leader is known as Big Mother, and as their new abode she has selected a small and rather obscure planet named Earth. Earth is unfortunately already inhabited, but by a very low form of life. The Spermulites will first have to eliminate these primitive beings, beings so backward and barbarous that they practise a form of reproduction known as sex, much to the disgust of the Spermulites.

To carry out her plan Big Mother has given a select band of Spermulites human form. These humans exist in two varieties, but the Spermulites have naturally chosen to take the form of the dominant variety, known as women. The earth creatures will be eradicated by destroying their ability to reproduce. This will be accomplished by draining the males permanently of their reproductive fluids. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you how they intend to accomplish this. The Spermulites have sent one of their number on ahead as a kind of advance scout. Werner (Udo Kier) was supposed to turn out female but Big Mother was still getting the hang of creating human bodies at that stage and something went terribly wrong. He turned out a male, but a male sadly deficient in one area of anatomy that these human creatures seem to consider to be of considerable importance. And Werner has started to go native, and has fallen in love and wants to get married, which makes his inadequacy in that area something of a problem.

The Spermulites begin their campaign in a small village in France. Big Mother has supplied them with clothes and accessories (including a car) copied from a 1938 issue of Vogue magazine but she assures them they’ll blend in quite successfully in 1976. They manage to recruit several human women to their cause, but after some considerable time they have only succeeded in ending the reproductive careers of a handful of men, and they’re encountered an unexpected complication. They discover to their horror that they not only have the bodies of human females, but their emotions as well. And even more shockingly, their sexual desires as well. They’ve discovered that this disgusting activity the humans call sex is something they could learn to enjoy. A lot. The two chief weaknesses of the Earth creatures, sex and love, turn out to be the Spermulites’ undoing.

As you might expect given this plot synopsis there’s a lot of sexual humour in this film. But it’s never crass or merely crude. It is genuinely funny. And it has a lot going for it besides the humour. The production design is interesting with some nice Art Deco touches, the 1930s-influenced costumes of the Spermulites are quite snazzy, and the cinematography is stylish. The movie looks great, and while the acting on the whole isn’t that great the actresses portraying the Spermulites are uniformly beautiful and, and in a movie that relies so heavily on style that’s arguably more important. Charles Matton had a background in painting, sculpture and photography and was responsible for the production design as well as being the writer and director. As you’d expect given his training the movie is more a strange erotic visual tone poem than anything else.

Given the plot outline you might also expect this movie to have a lot of sex and nudity. And it does, but the sex is strictly softcore and as is usually the case with French erotic movies it’s all very tasteful. If you’re expecting anything resembling a typical porn movie you’re going to be rather surprised.

Several cuts of this movie exist, although all are difficult to find. I saw the English language version; I’m told the French language version is rather different and is superior but since it isn’t sub-titled I thought it was wiser to stick with the English version.

In addition to the science fiction, comedy and erotica elements there’s some social commentary on sexual mores, and there’s even an off-beat love story, or rather several love stories. While so many alien invasion movies show humanity triumphing through ingenuity or determination or a stubborn refusal to surrender, this is a movie about the triumph of love and sex. It’s an exceptionally bizarre movie, even more so than my description of it would indicate, but this is weirdness done with taste and style. The arty, erotic, comedic and sci-fi elements are quite nicely balanced. It’s sexy and funny, and it has Udo Kier! What more could you want? I loved it.

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