Towards a new edition of the festival, we decided to recall some of last year’s films and therefore publish student reviews from last year’s STIFF Critics Workshop with Dean Duric. The first review is from Betty Stojnić on the documentary film Rubber Romance. Rubber Romance is a trip through the dark fantasies of a submissive S&M-slave and his unlikely romance with the woman he sees as his dominant mistress.
(2014, director: Sophie Dros)
review by Betty Stojnić, translation by Irina Rajnović
Student documentary is a part of the global film culture that, perhaps, the least shrinks from dealing with controversal topics; however, given the amount of experience a typical student of film direction, this is not necessarily a guarantee of quality. Nevertheless, the young Dutch director sophie Dros does not let her work be labeled exclusively by extreme theme, but also with specific atmosphere and a level of touchiness which is surprising for a documentary about the marginal forms of sexuality.
Rubber romance is a short documentary, a stylized representation of the sex life of a S&M slave named Knuffelfantje. Knuffelfantje was named by his mistress, a professional dominatrix named Madieanne. Since he was fifteen years old, Knuffelfantje has been fascinated by latex and rubber. The sense of rubber on his skin gave him much satisfaction, as well as sexual fantasies about sexual submission. BDSM is not a rare topic in the documentaries that tend to shock, however, the approach towards such subcultures in films often involves dehumanization and sensation of ”otherness” of the people who participate in them. On the other hand, this film emphasizes the human element that is present in any interaction that is as intimate as the one between Knuffelfantje and Madieanne. every scene that shows their relationship is swarming emotionality (sometimes exaggerated) along with appropriate touching background music. Their dialogue is minimal, and Knuffelfantje is not being specific when talking about how they met and how their relationship actually works. All the specifics are left to the imagination of the viewers, and their identities are well hidden, without interrupting the plot (though this becomes less of a challenge when one part of main character’s life is spent under leather masks). Screenwriting elements are less accentuated compared to visual techniques and the manipulation of sounds and music. In a number of close-ups it is seen how Knuffelfantje puts on rubber gloves, and the rest of his latex suit, while, at the same time, there are close-ups of various insects and other organisms coming out of their larval and assuming new, advanced forms. The message is clearly, yet elegantly presented – by finding and accepting an element of oneself that many would rather hide or suppress, Knuffelfantje has become a new, better, truer version of himself, with his mistress being an integral part of his self- and life completion process. On a visual level, there is a very illustrative link between the insects’ cocoon and his rubber coating. Whilst reaching its conclusion, the film becomes explicit for the first time. Various ”session” moments between Knuffelfantje and Madieanne are presented; these include, among other things, tying and choking. These final few scenes are awkwardly long and, at the same time, present the moment when the film becomes auditively chaotic. During this whole process, former tenderness and honesty is being lost and being replaced by dread and anxiety. With it, unfortunately, the sense of peculiar atmosphere is also lost.
Rubber Romance is stylistically a masterpiece in comparison to most other students’ documentaries. The slick and polished appearance of rubber at the beginning of the film is imitated by using black-and-white scenes with high contrast between light and shadow. Sounds of creasing and stretching of rubber are often highlighted and emphasized, the auditive detail that creates an impression of an, almost unpleasant, physical closeness to the objects. All in all, the attention paid to the atmosphere differs Rubber Romance from most of the student films as it provides a unique way of presenting the BDSM culture. Knuffelfantje, one of its extreme members, is not the object of research but a subject through which one can indirectly experience even those emotions more intimate than the actual sexual satisfaction and which surface when we give another person complete control over ourselves.