The Little Death (London Film Festival 2014) Review
Paul (writer/director Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) are a young married couple, well-off. But something is missing, as Maeve confides to Paul one night. Her fantasy is to be raped, by her husband...and when she's least suspecting it. Phil (Alan Dukes) and Maureen's (Lisa McCune) marriage has faded into routine over the years. He has difficulty sleeping, but things change when she accidentally drinks powerful sleeping pills he intended for himself. Evie (Kate Mulvany) and Dan (Damon Herriman) find a new spark in their love life by roleplaying. Rowena (Kate Box) and Richard (Patrick Brammall) have been trying for a child for a long time and their love life has suffered as a result, but things take a strange turn when he has some bad news... Finally, Monica (Erin James) works as a sign-language translator for the deaf at a video call service. One day, Sam (T.J. Power), who is deaf, asks her to call a sex line for him...
Once, up until the end of the 1960s, Australia was a highly censored country. Liberalisation, not least the introduction of the R rating (eighteen and over) meant that sex was one of many subjects filmmakers were eager to give an airing to. Sex comedies (such as Alvin Purple) were among the earliest examples of the Australian Film Revival of the 1970s. Other films took a more or less spurious documentary approach to excuse the nudity and smut, such as John B. Murray's The Naked Bunyip (1970), John D. Lamond's Australia After Dark (1975) and The ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style (1978) and Richard Franklin's pseudonymously directed Fantasm, which purported to depict ten common female sexual fantasies, while clearly aimed at bearers of Y chromosomes in grubby raincoats. The Little Death is a comedy and is fiction, but it draws on similar techniques. Each couple, who we first meet in relationship therapy, is introduced not just with name captions but a dictionary definition of a particular fetish or paraphilia. So if you didn't know what somnophilia or dacryphilia are, you will now.
There's not much in the way of plot in The Little Death, more a series of interlocking episodes involving the couples mentioned above. As you might imagine, it jumps headlong into bad taste without looking back, and needless to say the prudish, easily offended and very young should best avoid it. The potentially triggered should beware soon, as this film has attracted controversy and suffered walkouts at previous festival showings for a scene where Paul and Maeve go ahead with enacting their rape-fantasy scenario. Fantasm and its sequel Fantasm Comes Again depicted rape as a turn-on for its recipient, which is one reason why both films are cut by the BBFC to this day (as much as eight minutes in the former case). However, the context is clearly different here – and the scenario is so clumsily carried out, it's played for intended laughs – so I suspect this will pass the BBFC if The Little Death is bought for distribution and submitted to them. In Australia, the film is rated MA 15+, which allows accompanied children under that age to attend, but I can't see the BBFC being as lenient as that, although on-screen sexual depiction and language isn't as graphic as it could have been. Importantly, Lawson clearly has affection for his characters – even Sam (Kim Gyngell), a maladroit former sex offender, is not unsympathetic. Too much porn is mean-spirited and becomes depressing as a result. The Little Death is very un-PC, very tasteless and frequently very funny.
The Little Death is playing the London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Laugh strand. It will be released in UK cinemas on 8 May 2015 under the new title A Funny Kind of Love.