Closet Land

(Radha Bharadwaj, USA, 1991)


Any movie which starts with almost five minutes of dialogue over a black screen wins my immediate attention.

Closet Land does not fail to deliver on this initial display of intransigent eccentricity. In fact, this stagey, didactic sermon on sex and politics is one of the enduring oddities of the ’90s.

Only two actors (Madeleine Stowe and Alan Rickman) appear, playing out the dominant and submissive roles in a Kafkaesque allegory – as they prowl about a sound stage dripping with designer chic.

In this torture chamber of an Orwellian police state, Stowe is being interrogated as to the contents of her stories for children – a dangerous act of free imagination in an authoritarian world. Rickman, her nemesis, is a heartless functionary versed in every conceivable method of coercion.

Roman Polanski dished up a rather more respectable version of similar elements three years later in his adaptation of Death and the Maiden (1994).

Writer-director Radha Bharadwaj (who has since made only the Wilkie Collins-derived period melodrama Basil [1998] starring Christian Slater) exploits a simplistic but nonetheless compelling equation of personal abuse with political fascism. What the film lacks in art and subtlety it compensates for with earnestness and gall.

© Adrian Martin October 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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