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By Phil Hall | May 7, 2007

Of asterisk-worthy designation for being the only film created by Jean Genet, this 1950 experimental short involves several themes that permeated the French writer’s literary endeavors (homoeroticism, prison environments, voyeurism). But working in a silent film medium robs Genet of the lyrical language that dominated his artistic genius, and instead he presents a skein of imagery that becomes sillier and sillier as the film progresses.

Set in a penitentiary populated by muscular inmates who spend their days dancing in their cells, the film centers on a pair of neighboring prisoners who communicate through knocks on their dividing wall. A tiny hole in the wall allows one prisoner to insert a straw into the adjacent cell, and he blows cigarette smoke through the straw into the open mouth of the inmate next door.

A prison guard, who is obviously aroused by viewing the beefcake-behind-bars population, interrupts this nicotine communion by beating the smoking prisoner and forcing a gun into the man’s mouth. But the prisoner mentally escapes his torture by imagining himself in a pastoral romp with the next-door studly convict.

After its completion and a single private screening, “Un Chant d’Amour” was later disowned by Genet as a pornographic misfire. Its 1964 American premiere, as recalled by exhibitor/filmmaker Jonas Mekas in a special feature interview on this DVD release, could only occur by having a print smuggled into the country (Mekas recalls how Harold Pinter was recruited to distract U.S. Customs agents while Mekas sneaked the film in his clothing).

Strictly of curio value, “Un Chant d’Amour” can offer contemporary viewers little more than some unintentional gay giggles. Oh, those French boys!

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