By Mónica Delgado

Albert Serra’s Liberté becomes a new semantic for the libertine imaginaries of the XVIII century. In hand with one of the motifs of the tales of Marquis de Sade, to the fantasies of Guillaume Apollinaire, and an installation and play from the own filmmaker, Serra develops in this film a naturalization of the different sexual practices of that particular historical context, to implant them under the shelter of some woods during a whole night and dawn. It’s the practice of decadent cruising for the enjoyment of voyeurists and exhibitionists.

The night is auspicious for a group of libertines who flee France to stop and give free rein to their sexual desires. But Serra doesn’t just toss them directly to consume their desires, he establishes a progression, going from masturbations and sexual games to penetrations and whippings, like a materialization of the structures of power between the group of men and women, between noble and folk people.

There’s a lot of explicit sex in Liberté, something that in many cases accounts for the impossibility of the consummation of the act. The drive in itself isn’t primal, but the search for the drive, which looks messy, between objects, gazes and bodies; of characters which seem to be condemned to the impossibility of gratification, and where sex also becomes a tool for class control of symbolic insurrection. These libertines live in constant search of their object of desire, and this is condensed in a masterly way by Serra in just one space and during just one night.

The social function of sex also outcrops in Serra’s film. The counts are whipped and the duchesses bathed in milk and waxed. The little transport cabins become simile with the castles or mansions and end up being spaces for coronation or impediment of desire. The world of Liberté matches the events of The Death of Louis XIV, as in it completes a gallery of power-corrupted characters who achieve to drag servants and maidens in their way.

With Liberté (a film that works as an affirmation that these libertines are not more than standard bearers of freedom in any way), Serra realizes one of his most plastic and beautiful works, due to a cinematography in matte tones and lightly grained (which reminds us of the work of Noël Véry in the films of Walerian Borowczyk), and in the way that it submits us to explore through shots of perfect compositions.

Point aside, it’s strange its inclusion in Un Certain Regard, since it doesn’t seem to match an implicit editorial line of this section of the festival, and because it’s a very personal work which doesn’t look to compete or win awards. A gem in the middle of Cannes.

Un Certain Regard
Director and script: Albert Serra
Editor: Ariadna Ribas
Cinematography: Arturt Tort
Cast: Helmut Berger, Laura Poulvet, Theodora Marcade, Marc Susini, Eliana Zabeth, LLuís Serrat
Production company: Andergraun Films
Spain, 2019, 120 mins