Missing the Point

The key marketing device of the film Irr鶥rsible (which ends its run Thursday, March 27 at the Varsity) is Monica Bellucci's nipple, which appears to be poking right through her clingy, skinlike blouse. It's so protuberant, it looks as if the nipple is actually a feature of the dress itselfa fabric faux nipple. It is also the focal point of the horror story: The man who rapes Bellucci's character reproves her in mid-rape, suggesting that her boyfriend must not love her if he permits her to appear in public so provocatively attired. And it is pointedly featured in the film's adpractically everywhere except The Seattle Times, where the nipple is nipped off and the bosom chastely rounded to a smooth orb. The less conspicuous nipple in the shadowy background retains its shape. Yet I would not be too quick to razz the Times. Bellucci's neutered nipplecall it aureolectomymakes a certain sense. The nipple is part of the calculated offensiveness intrinsic to director Gaspar No駳 entire enterprise. A nipple is always highly charged in popular culture, and dangerous: Gretchen Mol pretty much destroyed her career in 1988 at age 27 by appearing in a revealing top on the cover of Vanity Fair. To separate a PG-13 film from an R rating virtually requires a glimpse of nipple. Too little nipple is as sternly verboten at a U.S. multiplex as too much nipple is in India or Islamabad. The pity is that the use of nipples on film is, almost invariably, all about men. Even when the woman is in charge of the scene, she's reduced to a nipple: Kelly McGillis' Amish girl deliberately flashing Harrison Ford in Witness; or Kate Nelligan doing the same to Donald Sutherland in Eye of the Needle. It's hard to think of counterexamples: Streep as Karen Silkwood, jauntily and defiantly flashing her co-workers, or Rosanna Arquette sinking luxuriously into a bath with no thought of anything but her own pleasure in Desperately Seeking Susan. The weirdest thing in the movie world is the sight of a woman in a sexually charged situation not intended for audience titillation nor the manipulation of a man on-screen, e.g. Naomi Watts' scary, tormented masturbation scene in Mulholland Drive. But I guess even that was manipulative in the manner of No鮍 A rose is a rose is a rose. But a nipple on film is a symbol. Handle it with care. tappelo@seattleweekly.com

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