REMEDY was written up by WBUR The Artery prior to the Boston Underground Film Festival last weekend.
“Remedy” by Cheyenne Picardo is a film about sex work that succeeds without dark secrets
These days, when looming shadows in 50 shades of gray are poised to introduce sadomasochism not just to housewife-literature but also to blockbuster cinema, at the periphery of all the hype a substantially more raw and less polished film is about to arrive in German theaters. First-time U.S. director Cheyenne Picardo is familiar with the material she describes, since she presents her own story with that of Remedy. Like her protagonist, who calls herself “Mistress Remedy”, Picardo spent 18 months—while studying at film school—as a sex worker at an S&M brothel; and in spite of all cliches that tend to stubbornly accompany cinematic treatments of prostitution, no dark secret lurking in the shadows is at the root of this. When Remedy is asked what prompted the idea she answers simply, someone told her she’d never dare do it.
A slight and trivial reason to temporarily become a prostitute; but that exactly is the point; and these days in which the PorNo! campaign is eagerly exhumed while the human rights of sex workers are trampled with enthusiastic self-righteousnessness, it’s an important point. Sex work as a service-industry profession, with some highlights and an (in no way glossed-over) shadow side as well, but not a tragedy overshadowing one’s entire biography—that’s the story Picardo tells in Remedy with the full weight of lived experience .
This does not mean that Remedy is some kind of formally illiterate piece of confessional cinema. You can tell that Picardo’s debut originates from a precarious place with its budget partially scraped together using crowd-funding—in fact, Remedy is nearly a one-woman production: Picardo directed, produced, wrote the script, edited the film and even sang the song used for the opening credits. Her lofty filmmaking ambitions constantly find their way into the film’s structure and formal aspects, however. Remedy is structured as a series of S&M sessions that reflect the full spectrum of her everyday work experience: From outlandish, funny episodes of the sort that recently brought attention to Lene BErg’s great sex-work documentary “Kopfkino”, to encounters offering true personal affection and romantic potential, to sexual power games that gradually and apparently inevitably teeter toward actual danger.
The decision not to present these sessions as incidental to a concurrent story of psychological development , but as a crucial narrative tool, has far-reaching ramifications for the tension sustained by the movie. This is not just a film that wants to talk about sex and foregrounds sex for this reason—and even less so a film using its sexual content as a decorative element. Instead Cheyenne Picardo aims to turn various sexual constellations into the actual medium used to drive the narrative. Via the succession of johns and the sessions experienced by Remedy as either the dominant or submissive party, a definite narrative development can be detected. This type of narrativizing of the sex act itself represents the highest aspirations of the sex-film genre, and for long stretches Picardo is extraordinarily successful at pulling off this tight-rope act.
Admittedly, tightening some of its mid-section might have benefited the two-hour movie. But even this is mitigated by Picardo’s direction that seeks out not just atmospheric, but also varied and diverse images, including a penchant for split-screen mosaics. And besides, the waiting, the apparent killing of time, the enduring of uncertainty and repetition, silence and stillness, are integral parts of every successful sadomasochistic performance whose rhythms shape the deeper structure of Remedy. (Jochen Werner)
(Translation by Nina Gielen)
REMEDY tells of an excess of intensity in the BDSM sessions, something that can not be simply shut off in daily life. – Indiekino
TOP GIRL & REMEDY
Sex and Economics
With Ulrich Seidl’s “IM KELLER,” Cheyenne Picardo’s “REMEDY” and Tatjana Turanskyj’s “TOP GIRL OR LA DÉFORMATION PROFESSIONELLE” there are currenty three films released in cinemas that deal with private and commercial sexual fantasies in very different ways. Seidl’s film shows BDSM people, two private and a professional couple, like exhibited objects in fairground booths, only to be seen by people with high school graduation – a kind of visual slumification in cinematic Louboutins. At least Seidl lets his protagonists talk. And especially the speech of a masochistic woman, naked and bound, about her precise differentiation between erotic submission and consensual pain opposed to violence and abuse, shows the high amount of self-reflexion that her sexual preference requires.
REMEDY and TOP GIRL on the other hand are about the commercial side of BDSM, but approach this subject with totally different perspectives. Cheyenne Picardo, director of REMEDY, worked in New York as a switch in a BDSM club, so she knows both the dominant and the submissive side. REMEDY is an autobiographic film about her experiences. Tatjana Turanskyj’s TOP GIRL, however, is more reminiscent of René Pollesch’s theater of discoure that was popular in the nineties. It is the second part of a planned trilogy about women and work. Even though it contains a plot about Helena, an unemployed actress (Julia Hummer) who works as an escort and fulfills the sexual desires of her clients, mostly the film is about materials, phrases and theses in an accented artificiality, often in parodic inversion. A lecture about cosmetic surgery is so much flavored with post-feministic rhetoric that only a feminist critique on self-optimisation remains. Relationships between people arise only on a material basis, it is all about money and work, with the money only being passed on concealed in envelopes. The men’s sexual fantasies are almost always about gender switching, like Judith Butler proposed it as a feminist strategy some years ago. In Turanskyj’s film, male submission fantasies are becoming fantasies again, in which men occupy a female position and move to a place from which they can fantasize about the subjugation of femininity, even if the formally assume the submissive position.
The girl is always below, down to the symbolic or real extinction. Whether TOP GIRL actually knows the world the film is about is ultimately irrelevant for the artistic concept. Economics is the cause for the disappearance of the female identity, and sex work is an intensified form of that, as it kills the body more quickly. The roles in this film describe positions, not characters. Helena and her mother represent two generations of false consciousness. The eldery because she follows an ideal of self-realization that turns out to be a market-compliant self-confinement, the younger one because she fails to recognize the relentless commodification and objectification of her body. She thinks of herself as a player in this game, but is only a screen for projection and agent of self-extinction. There are no personal, only business relationships between these two figures. It is a thesis film about which one can and should talk, but which does not have any aesthetically representative function and whose relationship to a pre-cinematic, pre-conceptual reality exists only theoretically and metaphorically.
Cheyenne Picardo’s film REMEDY is the opposite of TOP GIRL: a cinematic autobiography that is particularly interested in the relationship between the sex worker Remedy and her clients and the feelings associated with that. It is not because of financial distress that Remedy begins to work as a dominatrix and later as a submissive, but only out of personal interest in the BDSM scene of New York, particularly as someone challenges her: “You could never do that!” There is no sex in the club that Remedy works in – prostitution is illegal in New York, but BDSM clubs are allowed. The problem there is not the lack of intensity in the encounters, but an excess of it. Remedy is not hurt or deformed, but her experience move her so much that she decides to quit the job. Cheyenne Picardo shows some absurd events, like Remedy’s first session as a dominatrix, where she is supposed to give a mean guy a dental treatment, but instead gets him to fall asleep by giving him a foot massage. But more important are other encounters, for example when she meets a friendly flagellant and switches roles with him, resulting in a joyful competition about who can take the most blows.
Remedy likes the phyiscal aspects of her job, but not the psychic ones. She does not offer [sessions where she receives] “extreme humiliation” and she never strips naked, but when a man lets her dance being bound in front of him, this scenes stays with her for a long time. If Remedy is humiliated or aroused in that critical moment, the film does not tell, but it is not important anyway. REMEDY tells of an excess of intensity in the BDSM sessions, something that can not be simply shut off in daily life. Remedy and her clients come very close, but this closeness turns out to be an illusion.
Picardo made the film in a very direct and improvised style, citing the films of Mike Leigh as a role model, as well as the film WORKING GIRLS (1986) by avant-gardist Lizzie Borden (not to be confused with Melanie Griffith’s film WORKING GIRL from 1988). She puts the shabbiness of the BDSM studio, where there is always a mop in the corner and some piece of bondage equipment on the edge of tipping over, in contrast to the excitingly staged interactions betweens the people. Picardo said about REMEDY: “The film should do justice to the people in the scene, professional or not. I had to show the good and the bad things, without condemning sex work or the concept of kinky sex.”
And she succeeded with this very personal film.
Her autobiographically tinged drama is a world apart from E.L. James’s conservative hokum. -Filmgazette
Or read the English translation, generously provided by filmmaker Nina Gielen.
A top, close to hitting bottom
To not immediately think of the “biggest international best-seller in recent years” at the mere mention of “BDSM” might be rendered even more difficult in light of the upcoming aggressively marketed release of the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. But even the title of Cheyenne Picardo’s low-budget film debut “Remedy” is like an antidote administered just in time to that slick, glossy fantasy. Picardo too tells of a young woman who enters a dazzling gray area between leather bonds and whipped flesh, and has a close and personal encounter with dominance and submission – beyond that, her autobiographically tinged drama is a world apart from E.L. James’s conservative hokum.
Along with its unnamed protagonist (Kira Davies) the movie stumbles somewhat innocuously into the life of a sex worker and seems to initially not know where it’s headed. The heroine, who decides on a whim to take a job as a dominatrix in a New York S&M club, henceforth calling herself “Mistress Remedy”, staggers doe-eyed on uncertain stilletto heels through the introductory scenes and not only gains insight (along with the audience) into the world of BDSM, but also exposes the structure of the film: With the aid of individual episodes that often share only the protagonist’s presence as a common denominator, writer-director Picardo gradually unfurls the multi-layered portrait of a workplace that’s unusual at first glance only.
In spite of this, “Remedy”–with its cheap digital look and blatant tonal shifts–seems almost naïve and trashy at first. The dominatrix-colleagues’ rude reception of Mistress Remedy seems entirely cliched, and her very first client, known as “Marathon Man” because of his predilection for dental treatments, seems to set the tone for a voyeuristic freakshow to come. But Picardo skilfully circumvents the potentially sensationalistic nature of her story by opting to show faces rather than genitalia, and, along with her talented lead actress, exploring first and foremost the psychological ramifications of sex work on Mistress Remedy.
In “Remedy” the BDSM storyline doesn’t serve as a template for shallow erotic entertainment, but neither is the film in any way sex negative or damning. Even if Mistress Remedy learns over time that her job comes with certain nuisances and unwanted humiliations (of which having to clean up her work space is the least), using the lows and traumas her character experiences as a vehicle for preaching about fallen women seems the last thing on Picardo’s agenda. The visceral discomfort that sets in more and more for the young dominatrix (and presumably the audience) doesn’t stem from rigid sexual morality, but comes across as a critique of capitalism that also affects work places far removed from the sex industry.
Mistress Remedy’s apparently emancipated role in acting as a top to male bottoms quickly loses all of its empowering qualities in a commercial context; in the end the strong woman merely serves to cater to male pleasure. But not only is Mistress Remedy’s own authentic desire negotiable, accessible and exploitable; even her refusal can be turned into capital: When the heroine turns down a Jewish client aroused by antisemitic slurs in a self-confident and well-spoken-manner, he still leaves a bundle of cash on the table as a fee , thereby perversely turning even the stubborn refusal to be bought into a desired commodity.
Equally misleading and telling is a recurring scene that purports to show a private moment. Mistress Remedy and a colleague are casually chatting over a smoke, but as the camera pulls back, what looks like a cigarette break is in fact revealed to be part of their job routine: A mummified man kneels before the two women, and the chain-smoking dominatrixes put out one cigarette butt after the other on his naked back. Thus, a gesture of empowerment, pleasure and privacy are all subsumed into an assembly-line production.