Robin Wright Penn (left) and Dakota Fanning should get you talking about abuse.
HOUNDDOG (Deborah Kampmeier) Rating: NNN
Hounddog, the closing gala of the Female Eye Festival commemorating the Montreal Massacre, kick-starts a crucial discussion about rape and representation.
A scene with Dakota Fanning as the nine-year-old victim created the kind of uproar after its screening at Sundance two years ago - some wanted to sue her mother for child abuse - that tells us a lot about how messed up our culture is about sex. Major teen idol Miley Cyrus poses in a backless dress in a major mag; 12-year-olds wear T-shirts with the words "Porn Star" written on them. But realistically portray an attack on a minor? Just try it.
The scene exploits no one and works precisely because it's expertly edited.
Set in the Deep South of the 1950s, the film is an intense study of the vulnerability of Lewellen (Fanning), an impoverished girl experiencing a sexual awakening - she has a thing for Elvis and likes to mimic his moves - and how all her relationships change after the attack.
Hounddog has problems, specifically the presence of what Spike Lee likes to call "magical negroes," those too-good-to-be-true black saviours, personified here by Afemo Omilami as a healing blues musician, and it does get grim.
But this is also a powerful study of female survival, and the performances - especially Robin Wright Penn as Lew's dad's unreliable ex, and Fanning - are terrific. Note to the phobic: snakes figure prominently.
Screens Saturday (December 6) at the National Film Board.