I Am Curious (Yellow)

1967, Movie, NR, 94 mins

Review

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Initially seized by the US Customs Office for its "obscene" sexual content, I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) became a cause celebre and a landmark in the history of film censorship when the US Court of Appeals overruled the decision following testimony in the film's defense by writers such as Norman Mailer, critics such as John Simon and Stanley Kauffman, and even psychiatrists and clergymen. But the film, about an actress playing a sexually liberated political activist, has not dated well, and what was once considered audacious and experimental now seems rather quaint and artistically pretentious.

While making a film called "Lena on the Road," a 20-year-old Swedish actress named Lena (Lena Nyman) is having an affair with her 40-year-old director Vilgot Sjoman (himself). In the film, she portrays a rebellious activist searching for her own sexual and political identity, and interviews people on the streets of Stockholm about various social issues. Playing her boyfriend in the film is Borje (Borje Ahlstedt), with whom she has sex in her room, which is filled with radical pamphlets and which she calls her "institute," and on the balustrade of the Royal Palace in front of a guard. After marching in front of the US Embassy in protest over American involvement in Vietnam, Lena finds out that Borje has a girlfriend and a child, and she angrily flees to a retreat in the country to practice meditation and yoga.

Borje follows her there and after fighting, they have sex in a pond, and in a large oak tree with a religious group nearby. After Borje admits that he has other girlfriends, Lena has a nightmare in which she shoots her 23 former lovers and then castrates Borje. She realizes that her advocacy of nonviolence is hypocritical and decides to forsake her political activities, just as a television broadcast announces that the Swedish Parliament has adopted an official nonviolence defense policy. Returning home, Lena destroys the files in her "institute," and when she goes to see Borje at his job as a car salesman, the director of the film realizes that the "real" Lena and Borje are falling in love, and he fights with Borje while directing him in the scene. For the final scene of "Lena on the Road," Lena and Borje go to a disinfectant clinic and are scrubbed down with an anti-scabies solution, then break up. In "real" life, Lena goes to tell the director that she is leaving him, and sees him already flirting with a 23-year-old actress, then reunites with Borje.

Erroneously considered to be the first "porno film," I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) is actually a combination European art film and naturalistic Swedish "nudist" movie, containing a fair amount of female toplessness and some graphic shots of male genitalia, but featuring purely simulated (and comical) intercourse which, like its high-contrast black-and-white photography, could have only frustrated the typical Times Square grindhouse patron of the late '60s who would be expecting something more stimulating. Likewise, the somewhat confusingly handled film-within-a-film structure and the emphasis on social satire (via frequent cuts to TV broadcast parodies) and sub-Godardian technique (obscure voice-overs, inserts of photographs and political slogans flashing on screen) must have been completely befuddling to a viewer looking forward to seeing the "salacious" film.

The frank, but casual, Swedish attitude toward nudity actually results in a demystification of sex, while the documentary-style street interviews, scenes of a Russian poet reading from his work, and news footage of Martin Luther King giving speeches (not to mention the ultra-clinical scabies scrubdown scene) further add to the film's overall unerotic tone. The title (as well as the title of Sjoman's follow-up I AM CURIOUS (BLUE), which features the same cast and film-within-a-film format) is not meant to have a sexual connotation, but refers to the yellow and blue color of the Swedish flag, and the film undoubtedly may have had more meaning for Swedes at the time, but in retrospect, it merely seems an interesting time capsule, representing what was once considered to be socially and sexually daring. (Graphic nudity, sexual situations.) leave a comment

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I Am Curious (Yellow)
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