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by Jay Seaver

"One man's art shouldn't be another's crime."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: At the end of "Art/Crime", the audience is informed that there are still more days in court ahead for Remy Couture, and it's fair to ask if maybe the filmmakers should have waited six months before locking and premiering it. And while the movie could perhaps use a little more material, waiting for that last ruling might make the case less of an interesting illustration of a larger point.

Couture is a gifted make-up artist based in Montréal, and in 2005 he started a website "Mourgue 666" - later renamed "Inner Depravity" - to demonstrate his work. As you might expect from the name, the photo galleries (and two videos) there are not pleasant, generally centered around a masked man tormenting and killing captive women. Eventually, as he got more professional work, Inner Depravity went dormant, but in 2009, on a tip from Interpol, police set up a sting to arrest Couture and search his apartment and studio. Though he can extensively document that nobody was harmed, particularly the child mentioned in the complaint, his case still works its way through the court on obscenity charges.

Are Couture's works obscene? Well, they're decidedly not nice, that's for certain. Seen without context, it would be easy to assume that his photographs are the real thing, and the Inner Depravity works are certainly made to put the viewer in an uncomfortable place, though they're not far removed from the horror movies on which he also works. The laws on this were written long enough ago that "crime comics" are specifically prohibited, but even if they are not generally enforced (and the officers on-scene are more apt to admire Couture's work than recommend throwing the book at him), this is to be a special case.

Why is that? This film is at times frustratingly unclear on that, perhaps by design. After all, a movie about how edgy artists must fight censorship even in a relatively permissive place like Montréal (and, because of the nature of the web, all over the world) is more compelling than one about how police departments feel the need to justify expensive operations with convictions, even if it means resorting to vestigial laws. The latter sometimes appears to be the actual situation, if only because director Frédérik Maheux seems to have a hard tiime finding anybody solidly in favor of the prosecution; even an inflammatory comment by the case's second prosecutor gets little in the way of follow-up. Though a recurring theme of the movie is how much of this spread from an anonymous complaint, the lack of a specific villain is odd.

There is no shortage of protagonists, though, most importantly Remy Couture himself. For all that his haircut and tattoos may freak more conservative crowds out even before seeing his work, he comes across as a soft-spoken, friendly fellow, and the clips of him at work on a photo shoot wind up making for a fascinating contrast between the horrific final product and the relaxed atmosphere on the set. Interviews with the models tell similar stories, particularly Sonia Guerton and her ten-year-old son Frederic, who is at times almost hilariously nonchalant about his experience.

The story of "Art/Crime" is sadly familiar, but Maheux's telling of it is solid. There may be some gaps, but it's interesting to see art defended for its artificiality as well as its truth.

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originally posted: 08/06/11 21:03:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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