I'm sure I ought to be discussing this film's contribution to homoerotic cinema, or Jarman's role as a pivotal director... blah. I'd rather tell you what you get for your money....
Set on an unnamed island somewhere in the Mediterranean, a small group of Roman soldiers guard an outpost. They speak in guttural Latin, with sub-titles. Sebastiane, of the title, is a Christian, but was a captain in the Emperor's favoured guard, now demoted and banished to this end-of-the-world island.
Lying around in the blazing Mediterranean sun all day with nothing to do (and no women) the men's minds turn naturally to sex. The Guard Commander wants Sebastiane. Sebastiane, being a Christian now, refuses and, tortured in mind, the captain proceeds to torture Sebastiane in the flesh.
I think I just managed to make the film a great deal more interesting than it actually is - in many ways it seems to soak in the ennui of its characters, as if Jarman is saying: you too would act like this (ie, become vicious and depraved) if you were this bored.
There's almost constant nudity throughout (full-frontal male - no erections), but don't expect eye-candy. This film has a very dated, 1970s look. The men become brutalised by the brutality of their lives. One scene was very reminiscent to me of a scene in Deliverance, where Jon Voight and friend are set upon by in-bred rapists (squeal, piggy, squeal). These Roman soldiers are soulless and ugly (one even has a false nose and often wears a huge phallus).
There are some great moments - two lovers in the surf comes to mind - and beautiful cinematography.
I found the central performance of Leonardo Treviglio as Sebastiane the most disappointing part of the film. He is wooden, and the whole premise of the film - the passion the captain has for him - is utterly unbelievable.
This is not a relaxing film. It's anything but feel-good, but it is a classic of its time, and possibly worth seeing just for that.
A low budget yet
stunningly beautiful, but ultimately disturbing, film made in 1975 by the acclaimed
gay British director, Derek Jarman. Sebastiane is famous for having all its
dialogue spoken in a kind of rough and ready dog Latin, filled with fun-to-spot
profanity. Full of shame and rejection, longing and loneliness, the movie looks
at what happens when fervid faith meets repressed desire, using the martyrdom
of gay icon Saint Sebastiane.
It's very visual. I had trouble following the plot and more or less gave up just to watch it unfold. The cast certainly are easy on the eye, sculpted torsos and semi-clad tanned flesh artfully displayed with Jarman's painter's eye. Of course the same applies to the violence, with less pleasing results. It seems like a realistic enough account of daily life for a group of macho Roman soldiers- bored, horny, filled with overabundant energy and dangerous- exiled to some Godforsaken desert outpost of Empire. Interestingly homosexuality is presented throughout the film as a tolerated lifestyle. The problem is the refusal of increasingly pious Sebastiane to submit to the lust (or is it love?) of his captain, Severus. That's where I had problems with the film, for I just couldn't get to grips with Sebastiane's mixed signals and supposed spirituality: a martyr complex combined with masochism. There's a strikingly sensual scene near the beginning where he stands pouring water over his heated body, showering under the watchful eyes of Severus, flaunting himself, and with his friend, Justin, too he is very physically intimate, yet he repels all Severus' advances and invites his own violent destruction. Furthermore the film, despite its softcore homoeroticism, best shown in a lingering slo-mo scene where two of the men frolic together naked in the sea, stays in the mind for its lovingly depicted sadomasochism that, especially tied to religion as it is, left me cold.
So, it's something of a curiosity, but worth looking at just to see for yourself and make up your own mind whether it's a masterpiece or a dud.
Buy It Here From Amazon - Region 2 (UK/Europe)
or here from Amazon.com
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