Sunday, 4 March 2012

Bare Behind Bars

After initially been banned in the UK, Oswaldo de Oliviera’s lesbian prison flick Bare Behind Bars has now been passed for a DVD release following 95 seconds of cuts to remove scenes of fellatio and penetration. So what remains of the Brazilian’s sexploitation movie?

The storyline of Bare Behind Bars, such as it is, concerns an all-female prison in Brazil, the corrupt governor, an escape plan and a nymphomaniac nurse. It’s not a film which is overly concerned with plot or character development (the vast majority of the characters are not even given names), but would rather concentrate instead on a number of set-pieces.

What flimsy plot there is centres on a formulaic escape plot and the predictable aftermath. With the prison being run by an evil – and unhinged – governor, death, solitary confinement and punishment beatings are every day occurrences. It’s little wonder that, led by a new inmate, the prisoners are desperate to break out. Along the way there are appearances from lusty nurses and sadistic guards – and there’s barely a male character who doesn’t get laid. Typically clichéd scenes include the shakedown, trouble in the exercise yard and inmates escaping in terrible disguises…

The tone is set from the outset as busty prison staff chew their pencils whilst their unbuttoned blouses gape to reveal their suntanned cleavages. It’s immediately apparent that things will become sleazier as a relatively harmless basketball game is broken up by water-hose wielding prison staff. Predictably, the flimsy uniforms of the inmates are soon see-through (or removed altogether) as the audience is treated to their first display of gratuitous nudity. The aftermath shows what seems to be some indiscriminate whipping and torturing of seemingly innocent women. It’s a confused opening which fails to make any dramatic impact.

What is made clear is that the prison governor (Maria Stella Splondore) is a nasty piece of work. Her callous nature, insistence on using prisoners’ numbers rather than names, as well as her casual attitude to torture, point to her as being the villain of the piece early on. Despite her wooden performance, and some truly awful dubbing, it’s also made perfectly apparent that she’s mentally unstable. This is achieved by Splondore ending each of her scenes by narrowing her eyes and staring evilly into the middle distance.

Following a search of the cells, a prisoner is discovered with a cut-throat razor secreted inside of her. The removal of this introduces us to arguably Bare Behind Bars’ most interesting (yet preposterous) character: the nurse. Played with relish by Marta Anderson, she’s a sex-addicted ether junkie who supplies inmates with weapons after inventing tenuous excuses to get them alone in her office. Despite being utterly one-dimensional, she’s at least funny – and some light relief is much needed.

As the governor becomes more and more unhinged, she begins a relationship with a sexually rapacious newcomer, and becomes increasingly reliant on alcohol and drugs. Sensing an opportunity to usurp her boss, another guard begins to elbow her way into power. It’s just another example of an underdeveloped character in a dead-end subplot. Further inexplicable strands of the storyline concern a girl being held in solitary confinement (who still manages to have a sexual relationship through a hatch in the door), a delivery man who delivers more than just dry goods, and an utterly bizarre sex slave/prostitution story.

There’s little to admire about Bare Behind Bars. It’s clear that very few of the cast have ever acted before. Performances are unconvincing at best and often appalling. Worse still is the direction. De Oliviera seems convinced that naked women love being naked whilst bouncing and giggling – they do so in the exercise yard, in the shower, and in their cells. It’s a fantastic way of making women’s feminine assets wiggle and jiggle (which is obviously the intention) but a poor way of convincing a watching audience that anyone in the scene was really having any fun. Allied to the accompanying squealing and wailing, it’s an excruciating experience.

The sex scenes are almost as bad, consisting as they do of varying degrees of passionless dry humping and frottage, some vigorous groping of breasts, and some quite vicious kissing. Even scenes of masochistic whippings are half-hearted – the protagonists look like they’d rather be using their whips as skipping ropes than using them to inflict pain. It seems absurd that a film so obsessed with the representation of sex does it so badly.

Even worse is to come, though, as the film unravels completely in the final act. As even the excruciating sex scenes dry up, there is little left other than some exploitative nudity, some utterly predictable ‘plot developments’, and some particularly unconvincing editing – including one sequence which uses at least eight consecutive clumsy cross-fades. It’s remarkable that a film so uninteresting can become even more boring as it limps to its inevitable conclusion.

It’s hard to understand who the target audience for this release is. In an age where sexually explicit material is available at the click of a mouse, it seems that even the dirty mac brigade would struggle to find a use for this DVD. It’s badly scripted, clumsily directed, terribly acted and utterly clichéd. Worse still, it’s interminably boring.

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