A documentary on a provocative subject, “Fake Orgasm” has a message that might have been taken from an academic primer, but brings it to gripping life by virtue of its confrontational protag. An erotic performance artist and self-proclaimed “activist, actionist and situationist,” Lazlo Pearlman is on a mission to change how people think and feel about themselves and their bodies, and Jordi Sol’s pic is part of that project. Alternative fests should show interest in “Orgasm,” which won the top prize in the recent Malaga fest’s ZonaZine sidebar.
Documentary opens with several women stirringly mimicking sexual climax into a mic. They are participants in a stage perf by Pearlman, who invites his audience to reflect on questions of identity and sexuality: If you fake an orgasm (something the pic claims men also do), then you are briefly not being yourself, but you are seeing things through the eyes of your partner.
The show concludes with Pearlman, who is nothing if not committed, painted white and lying naked on a bed while aud members circle him and interrogate him about his beliefs. (These scenes are also pic’s most visually striking.) Pearlman is seeking to get his audience members to rethink their sexuality outside traditional boundaries, but when they fail to react as he wishes, Pearlman takes his show to a Barcelona porn club, where the responses are more in line with what he wants.
Appropriately in a film about breaking down the old expectations of gender, the wolfish-looking, heavily tattooed Pearlman himself comes across as a compelling bundle of contradictions, a fact of which he is well aware. Self-assured yet insecure, selfless yet narcissistic, he is seen both on- and offstage, in a variety of moods ranging from laid-back to angry to confessional, whether watching his own superbly titled movie “Unhung Heroes” with partner Nina Braunsteiner or hanging out with his audience and the owners of the porn club.
These talkier sections of the pic feature copious discussions of identity and gender issues in the abstract, from academics such as Judith Butler and Beatriz Preciado.
Some of the most striking moments come as the camera focuses on viewers’ open-mouthed reactions to Pearlman’s act. Silent scenes featuring Pearlman swimming or in the shower send up the way movies objectify the body, but these moments overstay their welcome.
Once pic has delivered its message, which it pretty much has in the first 20 minutes, it becomes slightly repetitive, even preachy. But Sol (whose films, such as “The Taxi Thief,” have often focused on marginalized individuals whose existence poses a challenge to mainstream society) is alert to the dangers, and instead gets his drama from Pearlman’s personal struggles with the world.
*Jo Sol (Jordi Solé), writer and documentary filmmaker. From 2000 he produced films Tatawo, Taxista ful and Fake Orgasm.