Monday, 4 November 2013

Sebastiane (1976) - ★★★★

Director: Paul Humfress, Derek Jarman
Writers: Paul Humfress, Derek Jarman
Stars: Leonardo Treviglio, Barney James, Neil Kennedy

Sebastiane submersed me in a piece of history that is seldom explored. Set in an Italian desert outpost in 303AD, we view the lives of a group of soldiers that are isolated from the world. With no women, no real form of entertainment, and all the time in the world, they become very close and engage in homo-erotic acts. In the heart of the story is Sebastiane, a Christian man who has a strange sadomasochistic relationship with the captain of the group. While it all seems like “sex sex sex!” I found it to be much more than that. It’s an entertaining, enlightening, and entirely believable period drama that revolves around the world of homosexuals, bisexuals, and sexually frustrated straight men. Matthew Lotti of Cinematic Threads called it "More or less a Playgirl calendar with a period theme." I could not disagree with him more. 

For the most part, the film came across as entirely authentic. They used the same tools as Ancient Romans, the same clothes and armour, and they even spoke in Latin. With the phenomenal cinematography added to the fray, I can honestly say that Sebastiane is a brilliantly made film. The story is very ‘out-there’ and shocking, but the attention to detail is what makes it so believable. We all know that there was a history of homosexuality in Ancient Rome, Greece, and many other cultures. This is an extremely brave, masterful film that reveals that neglected part of history to the world. Not to mention, it also displays the kind of persecution that Christian’s faced during times where monotheism was radical and unholy. From hunting, to bathing, to eating, to fighting, we get a clear picture of what life was like for these forgotten soldiers.

The low point of the film was at the very beginning, where a party held by the Emperor looked pretty cheap and tacky. There was also a pretty lame sword fighting scene, which unsettled me a bit. Other than these two critiques, I absolutely adored this film.  Some of the cinematography is quite interesting and beautiful. The spider on the finger tips, Sebastaine talking to his reflection in the water… there were some truly unique moments in this film.

My absolute favourite scene involved the soldiers Anthony and Adriane embracing and kissing each other in slow motion. They were naked of course, but it never looked like pornography to me. It was art. Just art. I found it surprisingly captivating. I could feel the desire emanating from the two men, as they stared into each other’s eyes. We’re led to believe that the soldiers have resorted to homosexuality due to there being no women or entertainment. I didn't see that in this scene. What I saw were two men who genuinely wanted each other, and nothing more. In all honesty, the scene of them wrestling in water is up there with the most beautiful movie scenes I've ever seen. The soft music made it spine-chillingly beautiful. The fun, the friendship, the bond between these two men was just wonderful to behold. It’s an unforgettable sequence, one that I love dearly. That’s pretty amazing for a film from the 1970s.


Deep down in this story, there is a strange sadist relationship between Sebastiane and his captain. Sebastiane refuses his commands. He won’t fight, nor clean swords, nor sleep with the captain because of his Christian faith. Yet, he seems to love the pain that is inflicted on him as punishment, because he is in love with the captain. He sees him as an Adonis, the most beautiful man in the world. The weird thing is, the captain is in love with him too. Yet they can’t just be with each other, because of the way Sebastiane refuses to obey orders. Barney James gave a stunning performance. He doesn't say much, it’s all in his eyes. He clearly desires Sebastiane above all else in the world. Leonardo Treviglio, who played Sebastiane, gave an underwhelming performance due to his inability to emanate lust and love. It’s a very strange relationship indeed, but unflinchingly interesting.

There is a lot of nudity in this film. In fact, you see the men naked more often than wearing clothes. Anyone who has a problem with frequent nudity shouldn't even bother seeing this film. You never see full frontal sex, or sex of any nature really. It's just four-play, spooning and stuff. I was initially interested in this film because of the time it was made and the controversial images it depicted. As the film went on, I found myself more and more entranced with the visual artistry and sensitive portrayal of a same-sex relationship. No, I didn't care for Sebastiane's story really... what captivated me was the way it displayed the lives of these Roman's on a day-to-day basis. These men were exiled and stuck with each other for such a long period of time. I found their personalities and their actions to be a truly entertaining and educational spectacle. I'm not acquainted with the true story of Sebastiane, nor do I care. I loved the film's story, and that's what matters most to me. 

This is one of the best LGBT themed films I've ever seen. It submersed me in the unexplored, brutal, yet utterly captivating world of Ancient Roman homo-eroticism. What makes this a 'great' movie is the unforgettable imagery. There is such power, such passion, such honesty in the way the camera catches the emotions of these men. From love to malice and everything in between, Sebastiane has a lot of different dynamics that make it such a unique and entertaining cinematic experience. I've seen five-star classic films that don't have half the beauty that the cinematography in Sebastiane has. It's far from perfect, but I enjoyed this film immensely.