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Short of the Week: Jean Genet's 1950 masterpiece 'A Song of Love'

A Song of Love

French writer Jean Genet graduated from being a small-time criminal in his youth to one of the most acclaimed literary talents of his country. His works have inspired talented filmmakers like Andy Warhol and Derek Jarman among several others. For this week’s edition of our periodical dive into the world of short films, we take a look at the only film that Genet directed in his lifetime.

Banned for its depiction of homosexuality which was considered “controversial” at the time, A Song of Love marked an important evolutionary step in the development of queer cinema. The short is a poetic exploration of eroticism, sexuality and voyeurism, told through the story of two prisoners in adjacent cells and a jealous guard who finds them engaging in their private sexual fantasies.

A Song of Love’s subversive rejection of heteronormativity had a seminal influence on the New Queer Cinema movement. Through the use of a poetic visual narrative, arresting symbolism and surreal elements, Genet launched an unprecedented investigation of the intersection of sexuality and cinema. Although its critics called it “cheap pornography,” time has solidified the film’s status as one of the greatest cinematic experiments of all time.

When an interviewer asked Genet about politics and sexuality, this is what he had to say: “Is there a homosexual politics? How could you think that while I was still a child – let’s say that I felt my first sexual attractions around the age of thirteen or fourteen – how could you think that at such an age I could have decided to make homosexuality a political issue?”

Adding, “You’re asking me to speak of my childhood feelings. To speak of this in an adequate way, I would have to do a sort of archeology of my life, which is absolutely impossible. I can only tell you that the memory I have of it is the memory of a difficult period, indeed. But by escaping from the family I escaped from feelings I might have had for the family and from the feeling the family might have had for me… In my opinion, the family is probably the first criminal cell, and the most criminal of all.”

Watch Jean Genet’s revolutionary short film A Song of Love below: