A Song of Love (French: Un chant d'amour [œ̃ ʃɑ̃ damuʁ]) is French writer Jean Genet's only film, which he directed in 1950. Because of its explicit (though artistically presented) homosexual content, the 26-minute movie was long banned and even disowned by Genet later in his life.
The plot is set in a French prison, where a prison guard takes voyeuristic pleasure in observing the prisoners perform masturbatory sexual acts. In two adjacent cells, there is an older Algerian-looking man and a handsome convict in his twenties. The older man is in love with the younger one, rubbing himself against the wall and sharing his cigarette smoke with his beloved through a straw.
The prison guard, apparently jealous of the prisoner's relationship, enters the older convict's cell, beats him, and makes him suck on his gun in an unmistakably sexual fashion. However, the inmate drifts off into a fantasy where he and his object of desire roam the countryside. In the final scene, it becomes clear that the guard's power is no match for the intensity of attraction between the prisoners, even though their relationship is not consummated.
Genet does not use dialogue in his film, but focuses instead on close-ups of bodies, on faces, armpits, and penises. The film's highly sexualized atmosphere has been recognized as a formative factor for works such as the films of Andy Warhol.
- André Reybaz
- Coco Le Martiniquais ... Second dancing prisoner (uncredited)
- Lucien Sénémaud ... (uncredited)
When in 1966 distributor Sol Landau attempted to exhibit the film in Berkeley, California, he was informed by a member of the local police special investigations department that were he to continue screening it the film “would be confiscated and the person responsible arrested." Landau responded by instituting the case of Landau v. Fording (1966) in which he sought to show Genet’s work without police harassment. The Alameda County Superior Court watched the film twice and declared that it “explicitly and vividly revealed acts of masturbation, oral copulation, the infamous crime against nature [a euphemism for sodomy], voyeurism, nudity, sadism, masochism and sex…" The court rejected Landau’s suit, further condemning the film as “cheap pornography calculated to promote homosexuality, perversion and morbid sex practices." He was similarly rebuffed in the District Court of Appeal of California, which accepted that Genet was a major writer but cited this as a lesser work of an early period and declared that in the end it was “nothing more than hard-core pornography and should be banned.” When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision was confirmed once more, in a 5-4 per curiam decision in which the justices simply stated that Un Chant d’amour was obscene and offered no further explanation.
—Jonathon Green and Nicholas J Karolides, The Encyclopedia of Censorship