This still of Helmut Berger in Albert Serra’s “Liberté” is one of few printable in a family newspaper. Courtesy of Cinema Guild

Speaking for film fanatics everywhere, no dumb virus is going to keep me from seeing new movies. Now, since I don’t speak for actual fanatics, that doesn’t mean storming my state house with a weapon but, instead, using my movie-starved brain to try to recreate the moviegoing experience at home. That in a time when actually going to the movies is a fading memory, like baseball, restaurants and just going outside anytime I want without taking precautions like I was stepping into a nuclear reactor. 

Streaming’s always an ever-present option. And those of us with a suddenly smart-seeming fetish for physical media have our own stockpiled favorites. But the experience of being excited about helping out the box office grosses of a cool-looking indie film you want succeed, or just plain ol’ sitting in the dark munching on some movie theater popcorn and watching the latest ubiquitous superhero blockbuster smash up the joint remains out of reach. 

But we here at the Indie Film desk are all about solutions. And movies. Movie solutions, let’s say. So, dipping into one ingenious option provided by our local indie movie house proprietors, I decided this week to finally take advantage of the Apohadion Theater’s new first-run, at-home movie watching service. Readers know about this necessity-born innovation: Places like PMA Films, The Apohadion and others have made deals with their film distributors to make first-run theatrical releases (with nowhere to run) available for home viewing through the theaters’ websites. You pay to stream brand new movies, and a good part of what you pay goes to the theater. For those of us hungry for the new, hard-to-see movies that only places like the PMA and Apohadion bring to Portland, it’s truly a win-win. 

So for my first foray into this creative but hopefully temporary new cinematic frontier (oh, Brunswick’s Frontier is also doing this), I scanned the current offerings. While PMA has an accumulating roster of films (You can watch Béla Tarr’s entire, seven-hour 1994 Hungarian epic “Sátántangó” there, if that’s your bag), I went to The Apohadion for something new in Spanish auteur Albert Serra’s Cannes award-winner “Liberté.” The experience was, let’s say, “mixed,” although none of that was The Apohadion’s fault. Let’s go to the report card. 

Home viewing experience: B. I love my home. I love movies. So those are pluses. I could cook up my own movie-watching snacks. (No offense to that orange goop melted over theater popcorn, but air-popped, with real butter and a little garlic salt wins any day.) Plus, my cat, Cooper, could hang with me as long as he wanted, which isn’t an option at the actual Apohadion, I imagine. All that said, I was watching the film on my MacBook, with its freelancer-affordable screen, in my home office, which hardly approximates the magical ambience that made me fall in love with the movies as a kid. I did turn the lights off, but it just wasn’t the same. 

Technical ease: A+. There’s a link on The Apohadion’s site and Facebook page, you put in your credit card, and boom. Whole thing took about a minute, less time than waiting in line. Plus, no parking hassles. I didn’t do this, but there are also easy-to-follow steps on the PMA site when you want to stream the film to your devices that are slightly larger than the average computer screen. You also get three full days to watch your movie selection after purchase, which is handy. The picture quality was excellent, and glitch-free, although, considering the movie I picked, I sort of wished they weren’t at times. 

Price: Reasonable, considering the cause. My “Liberté” screening cost me $12, with about half of that money going straight toward keeping The Apohadion in business. Considering how much money I’ve saved not being able to actually go to any movies in the past few months, I was more than happy to shell it out. 

The movie: I have no idea how to grade “Liberté.” A long (2 hours, 12 minutes), statically shot, achingly deliberate period piece, “Liberté” shows one eventful (yet languorously shot) night where a group of dissolute French nobles – exiled from the court of Louis XVI for their would-be revolutionary commitment to libertinism – have lots and lots of sex with each other in the woods. That’s it. Now, before anyone gets too excited, let me say that this is the single most purposefully dull orgy you can imagine, even if Serra puts on film some of the most explicit and, let’s call them “eclectic,” acts outside of actual pornography. (Or inside of actual pornography at times.) The only known actor is LGBTQ icon Helmut Berger, as the decrepit German Duke whose woodlands the visiting French spend the whole night defiling. There are no real characters to latch onto, with Serra’s concern being the construction of an endless series of sexual tableaux, all acted out with maximum explicitness and the barest minimum of enthusiasm from his cast (made up of half-professional actors, half decidedly not). Putting on my critic hat, there’s a shred here and there of philosophical, if decidedly de Sadean, philosophizing amidst all the pale flesh, but when one cruel-faced young noble stresses that “They know the price to change the world,” the ensuing desultory sexual gymnastics serve to undermine the idea that these libertines’ grand talk is all window dressing to their inevitable and thorough undressing. That may, to be fair, be Serra’s point, but two-plus hours of cringe-worthy pseudo-erotic proof is far more than I needed. 

The whole experience: B. It ain’t the movies, but it’s a movie, and that’s never a bad thing. Yes, even when the movie is a try-hard European pretension-fest with lots of skin. And the feeling that I helped The Apohadion out during a time when so many small theaters and businesses are going under made even “Liberté” worthwhile. Now, let’s see what PMA’s got to pick from. 

“Liberté” is available through The Apohadion until Friday, you lucky people. 

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