A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
There is a scene early in "Female Perversions'' where a prosecuting attorney is summarizing her case in a courtroom. Her body language indicates her aggressive intelligence: She uses abrupt, decisive movements. Her language is crisp and definitive. As she talks, the camera uses closeups to indicate what the judge and the male attorneys are noticing: the neckline of the white blouse beneath her business suit, the slit in her shirt, her high-heeled shoes.
Is this a scene illustrating male chauvinist piggism? Not at all. The attorney is precisely aware of the impression she is making. She is a gender warrior who is fiercely ambitious (she's in line for a judgeship) and fiercely competitive (she throws away a lipstick when she sees another woman using the same shade). The woman, whose name is Eve (Tilda Swinton), is rising in the legal world and succeeding at romance, too--she has a relationship with an executive that involves twisted sex in his office with the door unlocked.
All of these accomplishments are driving her mad. And "Female Perversions,'' uneven and sometimes infuriating, is one of the most provocative films I've seen about the complications of being female in the modern world. It opens with a quote by feminist scholar Louise J. Kaplan, who says that the roles women are required to play in our society are in themselves a form of perversion. Throughout the movie we see graffiti scrawled on billboards and benches, saying things such as, "Perversion scenarios are about desperate need.'' They are in Eve's case. Sex for her is a form of hunger, and she is less interested in the other person than in the sudden, savage gratification of her needs (which include the need to dominate, to be desired, to be admired). While continuing her relationship with the male executive, she picks up a female psychiatrist (Karen Sillas) in an elevator, and they become lovers, too--until the other woman calls it off, saying she moved precisely to get out of "this kind'' of a relationship.
Eve is on the edge of disintegrating. She hears voices criticizing her appearance, her sexuality, her clothing and makeup. She fantasizes that she is being tormented by looming male figures. There are imaginary scenes with a rope, which is sometimes phallic, sometimes suggests bondage, sometimes seems to be a lifeline. There are also fantasy scenes in which a vast Earth Mother type exhorts Eve to express her inner femaleness, or whatever. The fantasy scenes in general seem unnecessary; the movie could have stayed with realism.