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Abducted, chained up and sexually abused by three hooded women, a male dancer is the victim in the reversal of usual gender roles in The Book Of Revelation, a sexually graphic and confronting film that’s more psychological mystery than kidnap thriller, as co-writer and director Ana Kokkinos tells Andrew L. Urban.

English novelist Rupert Thomson was in a taxi on his way from Ballina airport to Byron Bay on an Australian visit a few years ago, and conversation on the long drive turned to the usual ‘what do you do’. When he told the driver he had just finished a novel, The Book of Revelation, about a man kidnapped by three masked women and held chained up for three days while they subjected him to sexual abuse and mental torment, he was taken aback by the driver’s reaction: “That happened to me,” he said incredulously. It turned out he had a slightly different experience, but essentially parallel. He had been drugged at a bar, a woman had taken him back to an apartment which was guarded by a large bouncer and he was traumatised.

Male rape? Hardly a joke if you experience it, and while The Book Of Revelation is not a thriller about male rape, it certainly canvasses the gender reversal when women exert physical and emotional power over a male victim.

Some six years after first discovering the book and asking for the film rights, Australian filmmaker Ana Kokkinos (Head On) has finally finished the film and has met Thomson again for the first time at a Sydney preview of the film, hosted by your reporter. Kokkinos was “blown away by the book … Man as victim, women as perpetrators seemed such a bold idea. This simple reversal invites us to look at the situation through new eyes. How to speak of trauma? How to face one’s own complicity and the feelings of rage and shame, of love and hate that follow?”

The film pares down the novel to its essentials. Daniel (Tom Long) is a serious, adventurous modern dancer and choreographer at the studio of his long time mentor, Isabel (Greta Scacchi), where his dance partner Bridget (Anna Torv) is also his lover. When Daniel disappears one afternoon on a supposedly short errand, little do his fellow dancers or his friends know that he’s been abducted by three masked women who take him to a warehouse and use him as a sex toy, degrading him and keeping him chained. Dumped out of a van some days later, Daniel is so traumatized he cannot return to dancing, and lives in suspended animation while imagining that he sees his tormentors everywhere. When he meets Julie (Deborah Mailman), her dark skin gives him a sense of safety, but the demons won’t let go.

"It is provocative, disturbing, beautiful and challenging"

The graphic sex scenes have ensured an R rating, but Kokkinos and co-writer Andrew Bovel arrived at every decision in the adaptation process after serious debate. “It’s really important that the three women remain hidden in those scenes,” she says, referring to the large hoods they wear. We never see their faces, only their eyes. “We have a sense of them by what they do, and it’s all about how the women affect Daniel. They are all clearly damaged,” she says, and Kokkinos invented elaborate back stories for each. “For the leader it’s a psychological power game … for the second woman it’s more sexuality and the third wants to be close to this beauty ..” And it’s not hard to understand a woman thinking of Tom Long’s toned dancer’s body as a thing of beauty.

“That’s why he had to be an actor or a dancer,” says Thomson, “he is a public figure who is looked at and adored …”

For our interview, Melbourne-based Kokkinos takes me upstairs to the rooftop of her small Kings Cross hotel, to enable her to smoke her trademark cigarette as we sit at amidst the vines and plants overlooking Sydney’s harbour. She isn’t surprised that the film got an R rating, but she’s a tad disappointed. Still, the film is really for adults, after all. “We expect people to be divided, to be unsure how to react … . It is provocative, disturbing, beautiful and challenging. It has a powerful emotional effect that is not easily categorised and defined. Part mystery, part thriller, erotic … and some say more like a European film than Australian.”

Originally set in Amsterdam, Kokkinos says she and Bovel deliberated about the setting and found great difficulties in shooting it there. But one day Kokkinos sat down and re-wrote the draft of the screenplay, re-setting the action in Melbourne. “And it worked… it fitted really well because Melbourne has a strong dance culture, and dance is integral to the film” Hence the choreography of Maryl Tankard, an inventive and talented dancer whose work always has a gritty, sexual power, ideal for this film.

The question most people will want to ask is how did she convince actors like Tom Long (who gives a career-high performance as Daniel in a bizarre lions’ den) to perform such graphic sexual acts on screen, including one scene of mutual masturbation with one of the women – which was real.

Producer Al Clark is not surprised that people think of it as a European film: “I can’t think of another Australian film in the past 30 years other than Ana’s own Head On, which deals with sexuality in this sort of way. Australian filmmakers simply ignore the area.”

“In both of my films, sex plays an important part and I’m very conscious of the need to build trust with the actors. The actors will go there if there’s a reason and the sex isn’t just illustration, and I’m always very careful not to abuse the actors.”

"a conceptual film with a bold premise"

The question is, will audiences go there? But as both Kokkinos and Clark say, this is unlike any other Australian film, and it’s not a kidnap thriller with sex, but a psychological mystery, “a conceptual film with a bold premise,” as Kokkinos puts it. “To try and expose why the women do this and who they are misses the whole point.”

Published August 31, 2006

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Ana Kokkinos


... on set

... on set with Tom Long

INTERVIEW - HEAD ON - August 10, 2005

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