Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Progressive Sexual Norms of ‘Faithfully Yours’ [Sex Crimes]

Judge Bodil Backer (Bracha van Doesburgh) seemingly has it all: she’s a no-nonsense Judge and has a great home life with her doctor husband Milan (Nasrdin Dchar) and pre-teen son Ben (Damiano Incani).

At the start of director André van Duren’s Erotic Thriller, Bo is preparing for a girls weekend away with her best friend Isabel (Elise Schaap). They leave their husbands behind in Amsterdam, board a train for Bo’s family beach house in Belgium and outline plans for their weekend, which includes a burner phone, a large sum of money, and an expensive suite at a high-end hotel for Isabel.

Faithfully Yours has a fantastic central premise: a few times a year the two women use each other as cover while they cheat on their husbands. One woman will attend a lecture or visit a museum and snap photos to send to the husbands as an alibi. The other, meanwhile, is off engaging in sexy times. For this trip, Bo entertains novelist and university lecturer Michael Samuels (Matteo Simoni) at the beach house, while Isabel has her own dalliances at the hotel.

It’s a perfect infidelity cover-up…until Isabel goes missing, leaving behind only a huge pool of blood in Bo’s foyer.

Intrepid audiences won’t have much difficulty sussing out at least a few of the mystery’s details. Like any good thriller, writers Elisabeth Lodeizen, Paul Jan Nelissen, and André van Duren pack the story with suspicious characters, such as Isabel’s struggling writer husband Luuk (Gijs Naber) and Bo’s combative younger sister Yara (Hannah Hoekstra). There’s also Isabel’s stack of cash, the fact that Michael refuses to act as Bo’s alibi when murder enters the picture, and the alarming discovery that Milan knows about Bo’s affairs due to secret cameras planted all over the beach house.

While the logistics of the murder mystery don’t hold up under scrutiny (unless Detectives Ann and Sophie, played by Sofie Decleir and Anna De Ceulaer, are very dense), Faithfully Yours at least has a surprisingly progressive attitude about sex. Not only is there an old-fashioned queer love story subplot, the revelation that Milan not only knows, but *likes* watching Bo with other men is refreshing.

Too often Erotic Thrillers traffic in morally (and, yes, sexually) conservative territory: infidelity, open relationships, and queerness are all punishable offensives because they’re threats to the quote/unquote traditional marriage and relationships. By having Milan tape his wife screwing a litany of other men for his own sexual pleasure, Lodeizen, Nelissen, and van Duren acknowledge that sex, particularly in long-term relationships, is both fluid and complicated. Milan has a cuckold kink, but he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his sexual turn-on until Bo finds his collection of video files and confronts him.

Spoilers from this point on…

Contrast this with the oppression and control that lies within Isabel and Luuk’s relationship. Early in the film, Isabel confesses that Luuk has become suspicious of her activities and put a tracker on her phone. At film’s end, it is revealed that Luuk knew Isabel was cheating and blamed Bo, fearing she was encouraging Isabel to leave him. In his misplaced anger and feelings of sexual inadequacy – Luuk proceeded to hire a hitman to kill Bo in the hopes that without her around, his marriage could be salvaged.

The take-away of Faithfully Yours is that attempts to control and contain a person’s sexuality, as well as a lack of communication within romantic relationships, have lethal consequences. Had Bo been straightforward with Milan about her need for sexual gratification outside of their marriage, they could have been engaging in consensual cuckolding this whole time. And had Isabel been less afraid of her controlling husband, she might have simply left him for a lesbian relationship with Yara rather than faking her own death.

Ironically, the film accomplishes this intriguing sexual exploration in a fairly tame package. While there are several sex scenes in Faithfully Yours, there is no nudity and the scenes of intercourse are relatively chaste (sex is often suggested or framed strategically, only relying on a fade to black or focusing on the upper body of the actors).

Finally, it is worth singling out van Doesburgh’s performance. Bo can be a frustrating and even unlikeable protagonist, but the character fits the film’s challenging moral and ethical point of view. Van Doesburgh ensures that even when Bo is behaving in a way that we know isn’t helping her or Isabel’s case, her actions make sense for the character and her goals. It’s a quietly assured performance that anchors the whole film.

Also: kudos also to costume designers Marion Boot and Evelien Klein Gebbink for outfitting Bo in a collection of knit sweaters, which look comfortable, sexy *and* whose colour scheme (mustards, oranges, tan) connotes a certain kind of “moral rot.”

Faithfully Yours isn’t revolutionizing the subgenre, but solid direction, a strong lead performance, and a refreshing representation of society’s changing sexual norms makes this an entertaining and worthwhile take on the traditional “woman in danger” film. Seek it out on Netflix.

Sex Crimes is a column that explores the legacy of erotic thrillers, from issues of marital infidelity to inappropriate underage affairs to sexualized crimes. In this subgenre, sex and violence are inexplicably intertwined as the dangers of intercourse take on a whole new meaning. 

The post The Progressive Sexual Norms of ‘Faithfully Yours’ [Sex Crimes] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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