On a cool Friday afternoon in September, I made my way to the Walter Reade Theater on 65th St. I was going to the 57th New York Film Festival to attend a Press & Industry Screening of LIBERTÉ. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for what I was about to witness.
I walked into the theater, where I was one of the last to arrive. I bought a cold brew from the snack stand and chatted with a very old woman who was also attending LIBERTÉ. She was from a prestigious organization. We talked about previous movies we’d seen at NYFF57.
“I don’t really know what to expect from this movie,” she said to me. I concurred. I thought it was a horror/drama, but I like to go into movies blind, so I knew very little too. We took our respective seats and settled in for the 2 hour and 15 minute film.
The lights dimmed. LIBERTÉ’s cold open is amazingly taut. It takes place entirely in the woods at night. It opens on some of our main characters patting dirt onto a grave. It’s a group of Victorians with painted-white faces and white wigs. One man masturbates lazily in a wheelbarrow next to the grave; his friends completely ignore his behavior.
A man relates a grisly tale of a quartering – a man with all four limbs tied to individual horses and pulled apart. The same character expresses interest in – I want to put a BIG bestiality trigger warning here – fucking a live calf in the nostril while a woman slits the calf’s throat and then also fucks the calf. (They don’t actually ever do this.) The storytelling in LIBERTÉ is chilling.
All of this, just in the cold open!
Perhaps that should have been my first hint that something was amiss.
While these stories are interesting and keep the audience watching in fear of having to see a calf get nostril-fucked, a phrase I never imagined I would have to write, soon the boredom begins to seep in. After all, LIBERTÉ is a very slow, often boring, pornographic film.
In the beginning of LIBERTÉ, most of the sex is between gay men. There’s a lot of through-the-pants masturbation, blowjobs, men kissing, all that stuff. Semi-hard, uncircumcised penises show up on screen. It was still tasteful, although the audience seemed fidgety.
Things began to go downhill as the pornography got more extreme. The bookish man next to me gathered his things and split. Other people began to leave around the forty-minute mark. I wondered if the movie would be entirely porn. I made up my mind that I would not leave, no matter what happened on screen.
It’s hard to define porn sometimes, as that famous saying goes. But as I watched a gaping, hairy butthole be licked in close up detail, I realized there was no other word for it. Three people walked out during that scene. Twenty-six walked out in total. (I tried to account for people who went to the bathroom and came back, but it was hard to see in the dark, so my tally may be a bit off.)
There were two men in front of me who were not enjoying the movie. One man fidgeted uncomfortably, crossing his legs and slumping down in his seat. Another kept making “What the fuck??” hand gestures at the screen. There were grunts, ahems, throat clearings, coughs. We were in this together. I felt a warm sense of camaraderie with me and these middle-aged film buffs who I’m sure were also not expecting to watch Friday afternoon porn with their colleagues.
Part of the problem is that although this movie takes place over one night, it feels like an eternity. Characters rarely cum. It’s all about lurking in the woods, masturbating, and having sex performatively without enjoying it. The movie insists on being artsy by sometimes cutting from sex to a minute-long shot of windless trees, effectively killing any boner.
I want to emphasize, again, how strange this was. Real, paid film reviewers were walking out of a movie at the New York fucking Film Festival. Those who stayed began breaking the cardinal rule of movie theaters (and again the New York fucking Film Festival!!) by checking the time on their phones and iWatches.
I wasn’t sure how the movie was supposed to make me feel. I found myself turned on sometimes, but feeling deeply uncomfortable with that. I hoped no one in the audience was jerking off or being sexually disgusting. Besides that, I was deeply bored. LIBERTÉ felt absolutely endless. I wondered what the elderly woman I met before the movie was thinking of all this.
The character writing is at times interesting, but truly, we never learn who the characters are outside of this fuck-fest. There seems to be some kind of hierarchy, but it’s rarely mentioned and never enforced during the orgy scenes.
I went home exhausted. I was both horny and wishing to never think about sex again. I thought about texting my significant other that I would be celibate due to this ordeal.
LIBERTÉ, in my opinion, should be shown in the style of Tommy Wiseau’s infamous so-bad-it’s-good movie The Room. People go to The Room to laugh at the movie, yes, but also to celebrate that sometimes movies are made that are so unique, so unexpected, that it can be gloriously entertaining. I would love to have a version of this event where people show up to a screening of LIBERTÉ dressed in Victorian era getups, ready to ooh and ahh at the spectacle. Ready to celebrate a pornographic movie, which, to be clear, was never mentioned in any of the information about LIBERTÉ that I had available to me.
The context of LIBERTÉ is extremely important. Please do not go into this movie unaware that it is pornography. You probably won’t want to watch it with anyone except maybe your significant other. And definitely not your parents (unless you regularly watch porn with your parents). My recommendation is to watch LIBERTÉ at your own peril.