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SXSW 2014—Day 2: She's Lost Control; Only Lovers Left Alive
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton in 'Only Lovers Left Alive'

This week is the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, and we're lucky enough to have updates from the festival every day. You can read the first one here.

She's Lost Control, directed by Anja Marquardt
Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch

Even after snagging an award from Cicae at the Berlin International Film Festival and a scheduled run at the Museum of Modern Art later this month, Anja Marquardt's She's Lost Control strikes me as a long shot to escape the festival circuit. Even if it did, its subject matter—the work of a sexual surrogate named Ronah (Brooke Bloom)—is only going to interest a fairly narrow swath of viewers.

The film does everything it can to play down the sensationalistic aspects of the subject matter, using its first act to rather leisurely educate those of us who haven't seen The Sessions into what sexual surrogates do. By the time it gets around to depicting the actual sexual encounters, the film has repeatedly had Ronah frame the interactions in clinical, therapeutic terms.

Yet as the title hints, redefining or relabeling an act doesn't necessarily materially change its essential qualities or effects. Rhetorical control—the power to name an act—turns out to be just as illusory as the power Ronah thinks she has to protect her privacy or decide when she wants to have a baby.

The film nicely portrays the psychological and emotional costs of needing control and of trying to get it by compartmentalizing all the components of your life. But it never uses Ronah's experience to ask questions about broader cultural assumptions about surrogacy or even sex in general. Did Ronah ever have control in the first place? Was her life plan flawed ...

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SXSW 2014—Day 2: She's Lost Control; Only Lovers Left Alive
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