Seeing the reaction to Compliance screenings at this year’s London Film Festival was fascinating. Based on the real-life events in America in which a ‘prank’ call would lead to cases of assault, Craig Zobel’s film raises a lot of questions and clearly pushes a lot of buttons judging by the number of walk-outs – including people shouting encouragement for others to follow them and screaming criticism at the screen before leaving.
During the film’s debut at Sundance accusations of misogyny followed and this got me thinking (at 8am on a Saturday no less), is Compliance making “violence against women entertaining”?.
For a start, I would argue that Compliance actually has very little to do with entertainment. It is a commentary piece – closer to a bleak documentary that aims to inform and raise questions rather than entertain. Secondly, despite the large amount of time in which nudity is involved there is nothing gratuitous about the filming of it. When Becky is asked to turn around and bend over we are not witness to this – instead we see the reactions of those willed into creating this situation and let’s face it, none of them are getting any kicks out of it so why should we?
In fact, one of the smartest elements of Zobel’s film is the way people fill in the blanks for the themselves to justify what they are doing. On at least two occasions we see characters expand on what the caller has told them in order to subconsciously justify their actions while Zobel also manages to create this subconscious additional memory in the audience. I am sure that a number of people will leave the film (early or otherwise) thinking they saw far more of Dreama Walker’s body than you actually do.
Essentially, the amount of footage that shows us, directly, Becky’s fully naked body (most of the time she is partially covered by an apron or covering herself with her arms) is minimal. And when it is used it is to put us into the picture, to make us explicit in the compliance. Only then will we understand will we begin to understand the ease with which this can happen and the emotions and horror of the situation. We are not meant to enjoy the nudity.
As a society I think it would be easy for us to claim desensitisation to violence against women and the sexualisation of the act of violence against women. What Compliance does it bring this front and centre and show it for what it is. It doesn’t make violence against women entertaining, it makes it distressing and dirty, fraught with embarrassment and guilt. It makes it horrifying.
Please don’t accuse Craig Zobel of anything otherwise.
Full review to come later