We are all obsessed with the universal law of morality. But in this film they make love without feelings; they cannot love; their power is to become their wound – one of the girls sees her actions as a slow death. But the film also turns the savage moments into a prayer.

Alexander Carnera

Carnera is an author and essayist living in Copenhagen.

Aka Ana

Antoine D’Agata

France 2008, 60 min.

SYNOPSIS: A pornographic diary conceived and photographed by the French provocateur and Magnum photographer Antoine D’Agata. The film is made up of 120 fragments taken by D’Agata himself during his nocturnal wanderings through Tokyo, Osaka and other Japanese cities. The scenes are about women at night, prostitutes, victims of violence, drug addicts, strippers. D’Agata meets them and gives them a chance to frame their story by investing himself in the most total and brutal way possible. Drugged, deeply drenched in alcohol and on the verge of falling apart, he makes his way into the night to meet the other world – and not least to escape his own fear of sexuality and death. A complex film, a problematic film, a provoking film, which moves along the borderlines of using and being used. Does D’Agata document in order to experience, or does he experience in order to document?


The Italian Film director Michelangelo Antonioni once said that our time is sick with eros, because our relationships – sexual, social and our relationship with knowledge – are mediated by a production of meaning that has collapsed. They seem still more subsumed by the results of money and power-based relations that tie the cultural gesture into a chain of hectic and aggressive, but tired, attitudes. If we are sick with eros it is because eros has become an empty ideology devoid of creative effects, devoid of life being at stake in our struggle with desire.

The other side of this eros is the all-consuming ideology of morality installing almost a religious stigmata in our soul: if there is pain and suffering in the world it must be caused by the presence of evil or transgression; the human community has committed a fault, a crime, an error, and the evil must be expiated by punishment of the guilty party or its expulsion from the group. Morality is an exorcism established through representation and put to work since the mechanisms of society no longer automatically handle the situation. Whenever the human schema is about to break down before the inevitable fact of illness, accident, storm, drought, death, and suffering, moral visions comes like sudden revelations of “truth” to save us from anxiety and despair. Thus we are supplied with a moral meaning and a scapegoat responsible to God and representing community.

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No matter whether we identify with the moral enlightenment or the excesses of Marquis de Sade, we are all obsessed with the universal law of morality. Perversion has itself become reactive.

The Cambodian filmmaker and excessive stage performer D’Agata tries in his film AKA ANA to penetrate his obsession with desire and death to find a new meaning in life in a kind of pre-moral sphere, to go through suffering and death to be born again. This film is the end of judgement.

Its only about becoming. The film is a dance macabre by D’Agata who tries to get to know himself through the sexual encounter with several Cambodian prostitutes. The film begins with two people dancing in an empty lobbyroom, while someone says: “You and I live on the same memoir. In shady hotels every night you meet with girls. You don’t grasp the wound; you drink it up. The only way out is to live. But living is hard.”

In the first part of the film we follow the group of prostitutes into a still, dark, other worldly death-trip from which we hear them talk about sex as a weapon. The very power of living on the edge comes from the one who tries to live with the wounds. The dark purple coloured spaces and strange and closed rooms creates a creepy David Lynch-like atmosphere. Combining the girls’ own spoken, almost lyrical, passages with close- up images of their haunted bodies gives this film the feeling of being in a tomb. In-between we see D’Agata himself finding a vein to shoot himself with heroin, fucking one of the girls while we hear the voice-over sounding almost like a heat-beat of the girls: “You mustn’t show feelings” and “ The one who knows she will die soon for her lover, receives men.” The ‘Wound’ becomes the kind of limit in which pain meets joy. The wound is the source of the woman and also the source of life. They make love without feelings. They cannot love. Their power is to become their wound. They cannot die their own death. One of the girls sees her actions as a slow death. A kind of necessary suicide. As if only by killing herself she can avoid death. The wound becomes her power of potentia, that is, a state of becoming in which the man can fuck her but never have her. She is just his own bad projection. As one of them says: “You come to me, you see death.”

The film is divided into several small chapters, each of them begins with a woman saying: “My name is Iku, but they call me Kai”. Then we see D’Agata having sexual intercourse. In one long shot she has her legs touching his shoulders and D’Agata is penetrating her again and again. In this scene I was reminded of Francis Bacon panting the violence of flesh in motion. The animal instinct and the violence of life is exposed, something D’Agata has to penetrate almost literally. The voice-over is saying: “Beauty fell into the world – trapped by embodiment and desire.” And in another extreme close-up the body of girl is wrinkling like a savaged beast while D’Agata is pounding, but we only feel his force.

I was reminded of Francis Bacon panting the violence of esh in motion

Again a voice addresses the challenge of the limit, emphasising the border of consciousness and unconsciousness, the past and the future, this world and the next. But who is speaking? Is it the girls? Is it D’Agata? To begin with it is the girls, but eventually we get the sense of the voice being his own meditations on life and death, sounding more and more like a man who has withdrawn from the world, who is seeking a state of nature, a kind of barbaric pre-moral setting not only to experiment with life but to find a whole new platform for self-transformation. In the second last very disturbing scene we see D’Agata sitting squat naked on bed bowing his head down on the carpet. Now he speaks in first person: “I have become the girls. I crossed onto the other side. I have become a woman … I don’t like men. I am destroying myself.” The sound of this voice is both prophetic and submitted to a private language.

Like Colonel Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness D’Agata has crossed a line. 1)I have used: Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness. Penguin Books. u.K. (1910) 1983. His own apocalypse has apparently become his own salvation. The wilderness has crept into D’Agata as it crept into Kurtz, but it has not only woken his barbaric fury, as Safranski notes in his meditations on Conrad, but it has also exposed a limit for our moral life apart, civilization. Like Kurtz living in a state of living death, D’Agata crosses the line with an almost apathic stoic mind still seeking absolute clarity. “The future is unknown to me until now.” And then we see a woman dressed in a short skirt walking along a rustic wall. Is this D’Agata. I believe so. But then he says: “I want to vanish. I have ten dawnings in me. I feel vanishing. I die everyday.” We cannot be sure whether D’Agata’s intense pain has made him fall into his own private language, like Kurtz tied together to his own stoic character. Has he (D’Agata) penetrated the heart of darkness to become himself, that is, by becoming a woman? Has he nally become his own wound – the true becoming of the event (Deleuze)? Or is his state of transformation a sign of apathic fascism, a mad and sad dimension of T.S Eliot’s poem that has incarnated itself in Kurtz as well as in D’Agata?

We are the hollow men
We are the stu ed men
Leaning together
Headpiece lled with straw. Alas! Our dried voices, when

We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry celler
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

(T.S. Eliot: The Hollow Men) 2)T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems. 1909-1962. Faber & Faber 1963. p. 89.

This is read out loud almost as a prayer by Kurtz in his shady hut in the deep jungle of Africa (Congo). D’Agata bowing his head down to the carpet in the shady hotel in the heart of darkness of Cambodia, a country living in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s genocide, also has the gesture of a prayer. He is speaking about death and his longing to be reborn as a woman sounds indeed like a prayer. But before entering his own ‘church’ or tomb, he is reminded of his tears, his lack of tears, his coming tears. During a long sex-scene the voice is saying: “When you shed tears, do you know who they come from?”

Suddenly we are reminded of the chorus of the film, returning in almost each sex-scene: “Woman is the source of life … and the deep wound.” He wants to shed tears but he can not and yet the last scene on the bed is a prayer, he kneels on the bed, the same place that has become his tribunal of life, his naked self and naked body being exposed as the disorder of the world. Hence, this is not approaching suffering from an aesthetic point of view, but rather from an ethical one. Hearing the last sentence we know this: “I feel vanished. I die everyday.” He is still struggling to reach life through death, through destroying himself. He is still struggling to become worthy of the event. And as the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze has said: “ 3)Deleuze: The Logic of Sense. Continuum books. 2004. p. 149.either ethics makes no sense at all, or this is what it means and has nothing else to say: not to be unworthy of what happens to us. …” 4)Deleuze: The Time-Image. The Athlone Press. 1989. p. 171. His becoming a woman, or his new world, is a struggle that takes place in this world. If there is a vital encounter in the film it is the one between the body and the word.

Morality is an exorcism

I see the film as an attempt to give the word (the voice) back to the body, to the flesh. Like the slim body of Kurtz brimming with energy, D’Agata has emptied himself to intensify his material existence, to affirm it by forgetting himself, to be oneself as another (Rimbaud), but his struggling continues. He still has to learn to shed tears. He still has to learn “to believe in this world, not in a transformed world but simply believing in the body.” To shed tears and pray.

This film is an existential solitary voyage trying to transcend all power relations, even the one between prostitutes and D’Agata. Finding a strange passage between ecstasy and Christianity (Bataille) and between barbarism, colonialism and civilization (Conrad), this film is a disturbing Inland Empire, so to speak, with memorable moments particularly in the last part when the savage moments are turned into a prayer.


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References   [ + ]

1. I have used: Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness. Penguin Books. u.K. (1910) 1983.
2. T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems. 1909-1962. Faber & Faber 1963. p. 89.
3. Deleuze: The Logic of Sense. Continuum books. 2004. p. 149.
4. Deleuze: The Time-Image. The Athlone Press. 1989. p. 171.
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