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The Little Death - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published September 15th 2014
Can a fetish kill your marriage?
Director: Josh Lawson
Cast: Josh Lawson, Kate Mulvany, Damon Herriman, Patrick Brammall, Kate Box

Despite the prospect of mortality suggested by the film's title, this is actually a comedy about relationships. The title is the English translation of the French phrase 'la petite mort', a euphemism for an orgasm.

little death josh lawson bojana novakovic
Paul (writer director Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) rep the film's happiest couple.

The film, written and directed by actor Josh Lawson, features four couples and their attempts to maintain (or regain) carnal satisfaction. Their stories are isolated from each other and each is introduced with a heading describing a particular fetish, for example Dacryphilia (the phenomenon of being turned on by watching someone cry) and Somnophilia (by watching someone sleep).

Paul and Maeve (Lawson and Bojana Novakovic) rep the only pair that could be described as a happy couple. Despite their harmonious relationship Paul is compelled to go one step further and create for Maeve the fantasy she really wants. Dan and Evie (Damon Herriman and Kate Mulvany) are seeing a therapist who recommends role playing. Initial results are encouraging until Dan gets so carried away with the amateur theatrics he becomes more focused on his acting than his wife. Rowena (Kate Box) suddenly discovers that seeing husband Richard (Patrick Brammall) cry is the greatest aphrodisiac, and then finds herself going to ever increasing lengths to make him emotionally distressed.

little death josh lawson kate mulvany
Evie (Kate Mulvany) tries on a bit of role playing to spice up her marriage

All of these scenarios are worked over for laughs, and succeed up to a point, but eventually plausibility becomes an issue. The least successful is the fourth couple, Phil and Maureen (Alan Dukes and Lisa McCune), which comes across as sad and creepy rather than amusing, although everyone will have their own threshold of where funny turns to tasteless. Phil's outlet for satisfaction is watching Maureen sleep, and an initially accidental dosage of sleeping pills starts a pattern of nightly chemical sedation.

Once the format becomes clear there's a concern that this series of comic vignettes about dysfunctional relationships is going to be a string of cheap shots and an altogether shallow experience. Lawson though has come up with some pretty smart ideas and he also loosely connects the stories in some neat ways.

little death josh lawson erin james
Telephonist Maureen (Erin James) takes on a challenging phone call.

Best of all is the last 10 minutes or so which features two strangers - a hearing impaired guy and a woman who works for a video relay service. He phones the service to be connected to an adult chat line and the telephonist has the cringe-inducing task of interpreting the call. It may be a highly improbable scenario, but the extended scene works so well, it actually ends the film on a surprisingly high note.

One could carp about how politically incorrect the film is, although the maltreatment of partners is pretty evenly balanced between genders. It could also be argued that it's a pretty homogenised sampling of couples. They're all caucasian, heterosexual, middle class people in their 30s and 40s.

Putting aside these quibbles, Lawson has done an admirable job of making a consistently entertaining, sophisticated and intelligent comedy, the likes of which we don't see every day.

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Why? A sophisticated Australian comedy
Where: At selected cinemas
Your Comment
I saw The Little Death special screening with a Q&A with Josh Lawson. I laughed so hard it may me cry.
by Coffee Break With Belinda (score: 2|362) 1278 days ago
the telefonist is not called maureen.. its monica! And very cute
by doesn (score: 0|2) 1089 days ago
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