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  • Hooman Razavi

Hotdocs Festival I The Dilemma Of Desire: Yes Means Yes, No Means No

By: Hooman Razavi

A Man’s eroticism is Woman’s sexuality,” Karl Kraus commented almost a century ago. Much has changed since then, as depicted in The Dilemma of Desire, directed by Mario Finitzo, an award-winning social documentary filmmaker. The film chronicles the struggle and fast-changing reality of womanhood, expression of desire and sexuality, and the entrenched power dynamics that have subdued the exercise, negotiation, and control of women’s bodies. Criteracy is a catchy word, tweet hashtag, and at a deeper level, a movement and self-recognition to take ownership of the feminine subject agency.

The documentary takes the form of the episodic depiction of characters-four women whose lives and erotic experiences have common elements. The choices show the complexity of erotic repressions and the backgrounds and mechanisms behind it. As viewers, one can sense the massive burden of family, culture, and religion, all of which have disenfranchised women in a different format. Interestingly, the subjects and multi-faceted issues are all American, but pallacracy knows no borders. In a few scenes, mothers and family dynamics are implicated in delaying the blossoming of sexual expression of young girls and the rigidities behind marriage arrangements.

In contrast to these more realistic and pessimistic moving-images, one can see through the dialogues and visual imagery the power of current actors. Sophia Wallace, Lisa Diamond, Ti Chang, and many others, all through their activism, fresh conceptual outlook and belief in change, empower and fight against patriarchal mindset and control mechanisms. Democracy without Cliteracy is not only a slogan; it is a mode of thinking and action- vita activa and vita contemplativa in Ardentian conceptions. Aesthetically, the editing and jump-cuts conveyed the sense of angst and reawakened desires to make changes to phallus-centric cultures.

On a downside, one can see and hear so much about the underlying causes of the dilemma of oppressed feminine desire. This aspect could overwhelm the audience. Moreover, existing forms of dissent (pro-choice, LGBT-advocacy, sex-positive movement) could have been more incorporated. The clean slate portrayal conjures up the image that women know nothing and done anything to understand their clit, own body, and powerful sexuality. On a positive side, the statistics and Laws are not superficially thrown in the story; they serve a definite purpose: the viewer can pick up and understand what has been lacking and what could be the remedies. Does it matter for girls to know that there are 8,000 nerves in the Clitoris area? Is it essential for them and the male-dominated culture to understand that porn films have, on average, 1% plots and the rest are focused on objectifying the female body, at the expense of their desire; indeed, they do matter?

The saint of the clitoris is not rhetorical film, but educational enough so that the culture of change can take shape, and the sexual beings and desire of women be recognized and empowered. This change does not come easy, and as the documentary hinted, “need a whole village/country” approach. The paradigm shift takes many forms, written, visual, concrete, ideational, social, and technology-mediated. In parallel, the other powerful message of The Dilemma of Desire is to awaken the bitter fact/truth that women’s agency needs to be revived, and men’s control must be challenged. In one poignant scene, Ti Chang, who designs unique vibrators, comments that previous designs were all male-inspired, and mostly for the porn industry and men’s consumption. In a different but similar scene, viewers understand why Gray’s Anatomy, the reference of the field, has nothing on Clitoris and much on male organs. The signs are abundant and evident, and male-dominated discourse of science is out there and ready to be confronted?

In sum, one can ask, is it easy to change the culture toward accepting queer, joyful sexuality, and recognition that Clitoris matters? The documentary paints a clear and convincing picture of how an agency needs to be given back and how intimacy and connection can be re-energized by the erotic powers, and symbolically/physically understanding clitoris. Ironically, the reviewer is not in the same shoe as the oppressed subjects depicted in the film. However, the grievances were realistic and strong enough to cause deep reflection and search for a different type of gender relationships, one that breaks the closeted and subjugating practices.

Grade: B+


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