Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 March 2007
Source 35mm print
An attractive young man is bound to a chair with Christmas tree lights. His mouth is taped shut, his clothes removed and replaced with lingerie. He is considering multiple choice questions directed at him from a much older, and noticeably more frail man jittering elaborately around the room. A correct answer will negate portions of the younger man’s debt; he is a tenant with six months’ worth of back rent and unpaid utilities. A wrong answer will inspire another of the older man’s lashings, usually with a cello bow, which will add another to the tally of open wounds that now strew his body.
That Alan Cumming is in this role is ground for much fidgeting and much elaboration. He prances about David Borneaz’s hostage with concentrated abandon, whipping his victim’s legs or arms with a little more velocity than is necessary in his masochistic punishment. This scenario comprises much of Cumming’s Suffering Man’s Charity, his second film as a director. The film is so over-enunciated that it would make perfect sense without any audio. But insofar as volume and inflection are indications of rage, they remain integral to the film’s determination to burden the viewer’s senses.
The film is vile and profane, and darkly comedic—sensational, but to no end. There is no desire for Borenaz’s Sebastian to further suffer, nor is Cumming’s host’s vindication cheered. He screams at his redoubtable tenant with such force snot will fling out of his flaring nostrils—he’s on the verge of losing his muse, but as such the muse has little utility other than to keep his landlord’s comfort in check.
Sebastian is introduced indirectly, in a duffle bag set somewhere near the front door in anticipation of an exit. His host admires it as he would a lover’s body: embracing it, nuzzling his chin in to it. This veneration is purely artificial, which speaks a legion for his — and that of the film’s — subsequent masochistic motives.