From Obsession With Personal Love To A Road Toward A Non-manipulative Societarian Relations

Psychotic episodes or a prelude to a spiritual transformation?

Mercedes and Johnny

Johnny is a person with a rudimentary – conservative ego. He, in a way, is the ultimate incarnation of a classic male’s psychological nucleus. He is crudely sincere, touchingly naïve and childishly possessive. He is the personification of the masculine side of humankind. For Johnny love without marriage is mirage – so, real (“royal”) love is legalized appropriation, possession and “ownership” of another person.

For Johnny separation or, god forbid, divorce will be the end of him, his personality (which is formed by a unique unity with the woman he loves). When he realized that Mercedes, while loving him, cannot become one piece with him, he, after giving himself to the moments of panic and indignation, ritualistically burns a photo of himself. He feels that he, as if, is born for the second time – to nowhere (a place in the middle of the desert). But amorous separation is never like cutting the umbilical cord once and forever. It’s like a repeated, tormenting and painful cutting of this very cutting – repeated waves of futile attempts to return, as if, umbilical cord is still there.

The symbolism of sexual intercourse is not the issue of just bodily togetherness, but that of being alone with… the primordial mother’s womb (finalized by the soma’s song of paradisiacal return – the orgasmic sensation). So, the last intercourse between Mercedes and Johnny was not only between them, but between him and his fleshly origins.

But Mercedes feels that something obsessive, not disinterested, even predatory and primitive hides behind this unity of two bodies-two souls in one dense togetherness. Mutual orgasm stopped to be for her an ultimate sublime experience. Now she started to feel it rather like two predatory desires swallowing each other in cannibalistic orgy with one another. She comes to think that, may be, a new lover will dissolve her “sexual obsessiveness” and bring her to togetherness which can exist without losing the psychological borders.

Mercedes and Pierre

But with her new love everything turns out even worse than before – as a matter of fact – much better – sexually, emotionally and in terms of mutual respect. Mercedes (Myriam Mezieres) came to discover what it is – not only polite, but… elegantly civil sexual embrace. Everything was so incredible now – without psychological possessiveness, with emotional space to be yourself and to love without losing oneself and forgetting, who you are. In fact, it was so unbelievable that a mutual desire to marry became as natural as inevitable. With Pierre, Mercedes couldn’t believe that she really wanted to marry. Before, with Johnny, when freedom always retreated in the moment of sexual arousal, this was even stimulating her sexual passion, but now, with the right to have her own initiative, to lead, the consciousness of her choice of the moments was giving her even more satisfaction than before. But the result was even stronger dependence when you allow it to happen, when you achieve it yourself in both, Pierre and herself. With Pierre Mercedes became even more dependent on sex, because it her own will triumphantly was involved, her own decision to transgress the limits between the two.

Mercedes started to forget how terrible it was with Johnny, when she refused to marry him and they went through permanent scandalous episodes. Right now she has forgotten, how it was to argue and shout at each other, even though it was felt to be securely inside their love. In her new life, Pierre’s job required permanent “travels” to various places on the globe, and she was always happy to go along with him, until…

… Sudden and unwelcomed understanding came to her suggesting that it’s impossible to enjoy being chained to another person even when the chain is light and lose (even when an intimate relationship is not only sexually happy, but with caring, tolerance and respect, with democratic equality and sharing initiatives), even when the other person is loved so much as she never thought is possible. Mercedes’ old desire to be with somebody as one person – two as one, and her new desire to be in love as different persons sharing their difference and initiatives and power, that makes them even more powerful and more erotic together, all of this is not the ultimate wisdom in the world. Something was growing inside Mercedes’ soul like a stone wall resisting her past need to be with man as close as nobody else could achieve, and her recent need to be with male partner as democratic husband sharing differences as one common psychological capital to enjoy and grow and spend themselves together. She even cut the wire of the telephone, although she was waiting a call from her husband Pierre (in this moment he was in another country).

Mercedes as a professional striptease artist (dance with a stuffed gorilla)

Mercedes was not only theater actress but also strip-dancer. Her experiences in love helped her to invent a new number where her striptease dance was enriched by the motif of women-men amorous and sexual relations. This her stage performance became a local sensation. But in spite of her humoristic interpretation of sexual side of life on the stage, Mercedes as human being was even more suffering than before.

Mercedes and her self

Mercedes was suffering as never before – she was happy, she wanted just to continue her love with Pierre. She felt dedicated to him as strongly as before. But she was losing the ability to follow her need in Pierre, although this need was making her happier than at any time of her life before. She asked herself the question – why not to continue to be happy? Why something in her doesn’t want her to continue happy life with Pierre? And what is it this something which provokes her to stop her happiness? And she couldn’t answer. May be, something in her felt that it can be wrong to be physically close to another human being if this closeness is between the two, if this closeness is limited to private happiness. But what can be wrong with it? Why can it be bad? – She didn’t know. And, probably, nobody knew.

Mercedes found herself at the very bottom of the abyss, where two parts of her soul – the bodily and emotional, on the one side, and the “abstract” or “artificially sublime” on the other – were standing up till death against each other. She was alone (her husband was on the business trip), she couldn’t eat regularly, she couldn’t eat at all. She was alone with her body, as if she wanted to explain to it something, although she doesn’t know what and how. Waves of masturbation were forcing itself on her and retreating in front of her weeping.

She was screaming at herself. She was hating herself. And she was powerless to do anything which could make any sense. She was desperate that she didn’t understand what was going on with her.

One day she unexpectedly found… relief from her bodily (sexual) obsession and from her obsessive fight with it, from her desire to continue to be happily married and her simultaneous desire to leave it all, get out of it. Her husband worried and furious, although compassionate and polite as always, found her. Soon they went on a new trip. And here something completely alien started to happen to her.

Mercedes and people populating the world

When her husband has left for business visit Mercedes walked out the hotel where they were staying in a big city (Cairo), without leaving a note. And Alain Tanner’s camera found her early morning sitting in the corner of the large apartment building. She was observing how this large town full of poor people is waking up and meeting the sun with lazily excited noise. She felt happily lost. She, as if, found herself in being lost. She was happy in indifferently tranquil way – her tranquility was somehow indifferent to her happiness, and her happiness to her tranquility. She notices a girl curiously looking at her from the distance from behind a door. Mercedes felt fulfilled by her casual closeness to human life. She came to realize that what she was looking for her whole life is not hunger for human bodies, nor intensities of human flesh or yearning after human passions, but the desire to be near other people with all humility and kindness she could gather in herself and dedicate to the world. She couldn’t understand what she really wanted and what it could mean. But she felt that something in her does know. And she felt confident that she in on the way to understand it.


Alain Tanner and Myriam Mezieres (who not only plays the main character, Mercedes, but has written the screenplay) made a film about a woman who is not only gifted with extraordinary sensitivity towards sensuous bonds with men, but also with amazing power of the character to overcome these bonds, when she felt that her amorous and sexual needs become a despotic obsession which was radically separating her from life. Mercedes’ ability for this overcoming can be the result of her talent to semi-unconsciously trigger in herself spiritual mutation as a self-therapeutic effort. Mercedes as a human being is a rare combination of incompatible parts of her deep self, and this represents a very difficult task for an actress to impersonate this unconscious depersonalization and the attempt of its overcoming. The emotional palette and expressive delivery with which Myriam Mezieres elaborates the scope of human amorous and erotic and sexual feelings of her heroine is unique and almost subdue-ingly powerful.

For us in US, overdosed on Hollywood’s “pressed” (pedaled) acting style, like intrusive movement of the spoon with food kept by the mother, to the child’s mouth, to receive Myriam Mezieres’ acting emanations is shocking as, simultaneously, toned down and much more articulate, than the imposing-while seducing appeals of the stars of entertaining (commercial) movies.

In pop movie-making profession the very theme of sexual feelings and relations instantly becomes the area of money-making pressures and, therefore, is twisted and distorted by commercialization of representations more than other “contents”. But Tanner’s scrupulous examination of the controversial topic and Myriam Mezieres’ acting communicate to viewers the feelings relevant to sexual experiences and desires in multiplicity of details and elaborations. They decisively enrich the visual vocabulary of modern amorous, erotic and sexual emotions. In Tanner’s vision and Mezieres’ artistry human sexuality is an area totally incompatible with lasciviousness, which entertaining industry uses to attract people to the viva-obvious and addictively seductive, and by this make more profits. Anti-commercial representation of human sexuality in spite of the film’s visual and emotional frankness makes sexual problematic an experience which is in tune with contemplations about psychological growth and spiritual development (not in religious sense, but as an issue of existential spirituality).

Especially interesting is how Tanner and Mezieres depict the human ability to defy not only negative features connected with amorous and sexual experiences (lovers’ and spouses’ mutual calculation and manipulation, unconscious and conscious fight for domination, clashes, jealousy, disloyalty, etc.), but also its positive features (such as genuine love, mutual respect, successful sexual satisfaction, etc.). The accent of the film is not on the obvious reasons for resisting private intimacy, but on Mercedes’ positive sexual experiences with men. It’s these positive experiences the heroine of the film decides to question. At a certain moment in her life Mercedes comes to resist love exactly because her amorous experiences were pleasant, worthy and giving her happiness. She resists them philosophically, not in a context of the obvious – of being overburdened or abused in and by love (reason for the existence of a massive legal and criminal system and human rights issues). At a certain point of Mercedes spiritual development human private love with its wagons of delights and problems became outdated for her.

Tanner, like in his other films, follows the principle of realism without naturalistic mud (covered with multicolored oils), in which intentions of the filmmakers are often stuck, because the viewers like to identify with the surface of the sexual plots and pantomimes and sweaty-sweetie actions of the personages, instead of watching for development of the film-creator’s ideas. In comparison with such “everyday shining mud-realism” (when characters are inseparable from circumstances and where social circumstances are like the characters’ exoskeleton), Tanner-and-Mezieres’ narration is human soul-and-mind centered – human soul and its mind are rooted not in social situations, but somewhere else, somewhere inside people. “A Flame in My Heart’s” characters are not framed by the fight of the positive hero with the villains and bad guys (an obviously totalitarian feature of cinematic communication) or through the formal embellishments of “dynamic” montage, multi-colored lighting and changing-perspectives camera angles. Viewers are given a chance to understand the characters without being manipulated by expressive like express technology. In Tanner-Mezieres’ film we see people as such, people as characters created/formed by their own personalities, intentionality, tastes, particularities and dreams, instead of being children of social circumstances and tasks. There are no gimmicks and manipulation of the viewers’ minds and aesthetic needs by the film. The social reality is framing them, like the frame of a painting – the painting, it’s not part of the painting as a creative act.

Tanner and Mezieres permanently challenge the viewers by semantic density of their story and by the psychological complications and burdens (which the main character, Mercedes has to endure not always by necessity, but by her own choice). This freedom to fight with ourselves and try to find our own way through radical self-transformation Tanner and Mezieres depict for us, the viewers as a free – a critical way to live in our society.

Posted on 8/23/’17 –   “A Flame in My Heart” (1987), By Alain Tanner by Acting-Out Politics