Shades of Bob Guccione! Are they still making films like this these days? Well no, School of Senses was made in 1996, but boy does it feel like 1976. Whew! Pretty people having recreational sex. If you are 14, this will be a very hot movie.
School of Senses is a film adaptation of the Peter Eszterhazy novel Seventeen Swans. It demonstrates the difficulty of bringing a literary work to the screen, especially an erotic/pornographic one.
Published in Hungary in the 1980s under the pseudonym Lili Csokonai, it tells a tale of seduction and abandonment. And as a tour de force, Eszterhazy did it as if it was written by Lili. Apparently it’s quite the book in Hungarian. Perhaps it’s so good that the director Andreas Solyom stood in a shadow of awe, because this film barely breaks out into the light of interest, but not for want of skill or effort. Beautifully shot with an amazing sound track of Gypsy music and a drop-dead beauty playing Lili (Dorka Gryllus ), it nonetheless seems to lack a spark of something — desire, danger, or humor, perhaps?
Solyom shouldn’t feel bad if School of Senses doesn’t burn up the screen. The highway is littered with failed film forays into erotic territory. It seems like you can make the film intelligent or you can make it erotic but it may be impossible to make the two meet. For me, Eyes Wide Shut would be a case in point. Making a high-brow porno film is hard enough, but to try to visualize a literary work that relies in large part on its specific language to carry its message may be impossible. Apparently Eszterhazy is said to have told Solyom as much, though he blessed the project anyway.
So what went wrong? There is little if any electricity between Lili and her first and foremost lover Márton Kéri (Attila Kaszás), but that’s OK because he’s supposed to be using her and she’s not supposed to know what she’s doing. If the story were to follow the cliché, Lili would get a taste of the wild life and then go on a sex-filled binge in the manner of the old Emmanuelle franchise films of the 1970s. Instead the married Kéri predictably dumps her, and she starts stalking him. It’s not clear if she really loves him or childishly wants what she can’t have. When they temporarily get back together, her immature manner makes you think that maybe he had the right idea all along. If the point of the story is that Lili is a simpleton getting shafted (literally) by a bad guy, that might have made for a sympathetic character and a better story. A lady friend of Kéri’s then falls for Lili, but she seems indifferent to the other’s advances. Is it because she doesn’t swing that way or because in being attainable, the other woman isn’t desirable? I thought the latter and my interest in Lili’s future waned. Apparently she just wants what she can not have.
The plot gets further corkscrewed into the ground when Lili looses both legs in a car accident (with that damned Kéri at the wheel), and we wander into soap opera territory. Or more more precisely, Beauty and the Beast, as the now crippled and abandoned Lili takes up with Naxos, her apartment block super. The bearlike and often shirtless Naxos (Lajos Kovács) gamely interjects a bit of life into the proceedings. Because Lili is now legless (just above the knees if you must know) she and Naxos have some oddball sex that’s a lot more wild and crazy than anything seen so far. If the whole story were just Lili and Naxos, we might have had a real film.
The heretofore unsympathetic Lili starts to show her dark side, and in a sequence that’s more comic than tragic, she hunts Kéri down from her wheelchair and shoots him as he stands in his doorway, and that’s the end of their story. Did he have it coming? Probably. Did she make her point? Definitely. But what was her point? I think it was “You don’t dump me, I dump you.” That’s some tough love, brother. Meanwhile, what happens to Naxos? Apparently nobody cares, as we never find out.
If you like films about women behaving like children and men behaving like pigs, or if you’ve ever wanted to shoot your ex (or maybe if you have a thing for your building’s super), this is the film for you.
There are no extras on this DVD.
Picture and Sound ***1/2
School of Senses offers first-rate cinematography and a wonderful score of Gypsy music. If you liked the music in Latcho Drom, you’ll like this sound track too.
How to Use this DVD
Watch this film for the scenery but don’t expect much from the story.