By Jessica Ji, Contributing Writer
As the opening credits of Paul Bartel’s 1982 film “Eating Raoul” roll, the audience feels as if they are about to watch an old children’s cartoon, with its cheesy music and bubbly font. The film that follows, however, is far from child-friendly. “Eating Raoul” is being shown as part of a series organized by the Anthology Film Archives commemorating the films of Paul Bartel. Bartel, known for his cult classics, delivers a strange and quirky black comedy, which satirizes the sexual revolution of the 1980s with a deadpan, campy humor that is never really laugh-out-loud funny, but elicits a few chuckles here and there.
The premise of “Eating Raoul” is ridiculous by itself: a bland, sexless married couple, appropriately named Paul and Mary Bland (Bartel, Mary Woronov), disgusted by what they perceive as the sexual deviancy of their swinging neighbors, decide to kill members of the swinging community and rob them by luring them to their apartment with the promise of kinky sex. Later, they bring petty thief Raoul (Robert Beltran) into their team to help them get rid of the bodies. Despite this hyperbolic premise, the entire movie is presented in a flat, matter-of-fact way. The Blands seem relatively unaffected by the murders they carry out on a nightly basis, and the murders themselves – which are carried out by Paul, who simply whacks the victims in the head with a frying pan – lack any sense of horror or tension; if anything, they are played for a quick laugh. It is this deadpan tone, combined with the slow pacing of the film, that makes the film drag. The murders, and the outrageous sexual scenarios that accompany them, get almost monotonous by the end, as nothing really escalates.
The dialogue in the film is campy, but this does add to its ‘80s cult charm. The film features solid performances by leads Woronov and Bartel himself, but it is Beltran’s performance as Raoul that stands out; he is the most charismatic and interesting character on screen, despite being surrounded by other characters with strange sexual kinks – and there are plenty of those. Sex is present throughout this entire movie, and though often it is presented with a sense of dark comedy, it can sometimes get very uncomfortable, especially concerning the character of Mary. Men continuously come on to Mary and try to sexually assault her, almost excessively as the film goes on.
A bizarre, but laid-back film, “Eating Raoul” is ultimately a unique experience and a generally successful dark satire. Director Paul Bartel unrelentingly criticizes the sexual revolution of the ‘70s and ‘80s, literally killing its members with a hit on the head. However, the flatness of the entire film leaves viewers wishing that it had gone a little further and added a little more tension to match its absurd premise.
“The Films of Paul Bartel” will be showing at the Anthology Film Archives at 32 Second Ave. from Oct. 13 – 19.