I Am Curious

Biweekly Tuesday Movie Night in the Exchange
I Am Curious – Yellow on February 16, 2010
I Am Curious – Blue on February 23, 2010
Doors open at 8:30PM and movies begin at 9PM
75 Albert Street, 2nd Floor
Free

Just beginning to catch onto the lure of Criterion Collection but knowing that the best movies were to be had under signs marked Foreign, renting Vilgot Sjöman’s I am Curious – Yellow at age nineteen was a risk unlike the one taken by young people in America in 1969. Instead of risking a tender morality by walking into a film whose controversy was its main attraction, I was risking $4.50 and a couple of hours. Knowing nothing of I am Curious – Yellow or its counterpart I am Curious – Blue, my soul attraction to the films was the face on the front of the movie – the young girl peering out from a fringe of bangs – and the small write up on the back. At the time, I was renting one movie per week unless I couldn’t scrounge up the change or the time.

Why did I end up watching Yellow twice before returning it? Why did I rent it again in an attempt to show it to my (un-amused) best friend? Why did I struggle with unknown technologies in order to find a lo-resolution, illegal copy of the film, to which I had to seek out and add subtitles, that I could watch myself time and time again? And why did I feel so victorious upon finding Blue on VHS in a Manhattan library?

My obsession didn’t spring from I Am Curious‘ torrid sexual reputation, much as my teenage affections for Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were not fueled by that novel’s famed sexual content, most of which went over my head in its abstractness.

In an attempt to justify my youthful obsession with these films, I revisit them both on my 23rd birthday – that is, at a time when I will be turning one year older than Curious star Lena Nyman – and find that, both then and now, it is the universal themes explored in Curious that cause the film to resonate so strongly with me, a young person born over forty years later.

Lena Nyman is a twenty-two year old drama student who is curious, outrageous, and, as her lover tells to her, “in things way over her head”. Lena exists in Sjöman’s film-in-a-film as a hyperbolized, one-woman allegory for the rising 60s hippie movement, encompassing all of the movement’s courage, fury and passion, as well as its contradictions, failures and hypocrisies.

It seems that Lena fails at everything. Her buxom, bloated body – contrasted cruelly with that of her lovers’ other petite and ultra-feminin girlfriends – fails to live up to the aesthetic standards of her world, and earns her ridicule in scenes seem even more relevant today amid that controversy in the West surrounding beauty and obesity. Lena fails at free love, screaming over infidelity and then falling prey to tiny, shiny gifts. Lena betrays her resolve to honour the ideals of non-violence by confessing, tear stricken, to her idol Martin Luther King, “I’m gonna kill him when I get ahold of him… you need people who are strong… I won’t ever speak for your ideals again!” and by nearly turning new-age relaxation retreat in the country side into a bloodbath.

Most of all, though, Lena fails at adult life.

Lena struggles with family relationships and can’t get along with her broke, alcoholic, Spanish-war deserting father. It appears she cannot seem to manage an adult love life and finds herself naked and pathetic as Sweden’s health care professionals treat her for venereal disease. She resorts to violence, tantrums, pastries, or castration fantasies when overpowered by her emotions. It seems just as the 60s hippie movement fell victim to its distracted, adolescent and naive majority, Lena too is doomed by her inexperience, stubbornness, “damned curiosity”, and desire to be loved. One can only hope that in the near future the story of a woman trying to make an impact in a man’s world may grow outdated, however, the story of a young person struggling to come to terms with a harsh adult reality, and the frailties and limitations of her own character, is one that reigns eternal – and explains, at least in part, why Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is attracted to Sjöman’s work.

In Yellow, Lena confides in her lover that she has had twenty-three sexual partners, but “the first nineteen were no fun”. I might say the same thing about my nineteen years prior to meeting Lena and the rest of the Curious crew in that controversial, avant-garde, oft hated and now nearly forgotten film.

– Kristel Jax

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~ by cineflyer on February 9, 2010.

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