While Canada is mired in its own Conservative government, the US has seemed permanently plagued by it's puritan values which are the soap-box for the likes of the whackadoo Tea Party platform to stand on. For outsiders it's confusing, disturbing and scary. I can't imagine what it's like to be immersed in that culture.
Boston based director Izzy Lee's new short Legitimate (soon to be making the rounds at the likes of the Mascara and Popcorn Festival in Montreal as well as the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival in Cambridge) is lyrically dark take on the seemingly prevailing attitudes towards female sexuality and rape in the present climate. The film opens with the unintentionally sensational quote from former Missouri Representative Todd Akin, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that thing down." Beyond Akin's bizarre lack of understanding of the female body can and can't do, it immediately brought to light the notion of "legitimate rape", is there a time that rape is ever consensual? Are women who get pregnant from rape lying about the experience? If anything, that quote revealed that a portion of the population are unable or unwilling to understand the various facets of rape which, to me, is scarier than any monster under my bed.
Legitimate begins with a male politician (Michael Thurber) being seated in a darkened room with a drink. A woman in lingerie and bound with white rope begins to dance for him as he holds on to the rope. As the woman unties herself through the dance, the man becomes sleepy with an indication that his drink was spiked. In the later half of the six minute short, the man awakens horrified at what has happened to him.
Legitimate seems like a deleted scene from a particularly dark episode of Twin Peak with its dream-like atmosphere and surreal quality. The film makes use of its standout score by Montreal composer Shayne Gryn, which is unique yet instantly haunting and boosts the film's cinematic quality. Director Lee sets her sights on giving the male character an experience of a forced violent assault. From the dance to the woman, Legitimate sets up the supposed fantasy of the sexualized submissive woman but with a terrifying outcome. The women that appear in the later half of the film turn the tables on the politician who is seemingly unable or unwilling to see women outside of his own terms.
What is so fascinating about Legitimate is that it is horrifying for both genders, the dream-like quality becomes nightmarish as the male gaze is corrupted and destabilized. The women are driven to extremes and the man punished for his misogyny. It is poignant and horrific, a sign of the time for a political force that is unable to expand their world view. Lee's bold direction begins with the male gaze that we are so accustomed to then bravely forces us to question it by making us uncomfortable with the dynamics between the dancer and the politician. It is aggressive and passive, and chillingly banal for both parties involved until the tables are turned.
Legitimate is a terrifying look at where we are headed because of our dependence on gender roles and perceived safety. It examines the violent places people are pushed in order to be heard or avenged. It is a glimpse of a darker journey down a road that our culture is unknowingly going down.
See the teaser for Legitimate here.