The selection committee of the 57th New York Film Festival had nerve to bravely include “Liberté,” written and directed by Albert Serra. His film turns out to be sadomasochistic porn cloaked in a historical and sociological perspective. But it’s the porn that reigns.

The screenplay, set in the 18th century shortly before the French revolution, involves a group of noblemen gathering in a forest for debauchery with each other and with women they have acquired to abuse. The 132-minute film, with orgies enacted in unfettered detail, includes in its cast Helmut Berger, Marc Susini, Iliana Zabeth and Laura Poulvet.

Exactly what goes on? You name it. If you go on an internet porn channel, you can find a list of just about every sexual taste there is, and that is the case with “Liberté.” But the prime emphasis is on sadomasochism. There is whipping, anal licking, urinating, masturbation—keep going—with masochistic cries for more and sadists taking delight in what they are dispensing.

What’s the point? Serra is supposedly highlighting upper class behavior and trying to be intellectual about efforts to freely explore erotic behavior in that historical period. But as the action goes on and on, the rationale becomes less and less, and what we are left with is simply becoming voyeurs to what is not usually shown, at least to such an extent, in regular commercial or art films. Reviewed October 24, 2019.

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