Leading the way for cinema so phallic it’s surprising to not see the organ onscreen, Bare is certainly an acquired taste. Avoiding both eroticism and a juvenile reaction to the male body in its raw form, Aleksandr Vinogradov’s exuberant filming of male nude dancers is an attempt to free the male form, as well as abstract it. Depicting a performance choreographed by Thierry Smits, the film claims that it is depicting a world “overrun by right-wing and neoliberal” ideals, conflating the unabashed nudity with leftism, an odd assertion that doesn’t always sit right, though its claims of freedom do have weight. It’s adamant on provocation, but more than often boring once the initial shock is done, an endurance test in overrunning an audience with bodily imagery from a performance that would be best viewed straight-on.

Most surprising is actually the birth imagery, where two dancers form a space for a third to climb through, as if through childbirth. Re-contextualizing this imagery through manhood is the closest the nude dancing comes to provocative, but it’s never quite clear if that’s what the film is trying to accomplish. It’s like attending a contemporary gallery opening, where it fills the need for fake deep, shock value art that you may like in person as a travelling oddity. However with the film made when these things were allowable, it’s hard to determine why it really exists.

So many celebrations of the nude body are of the female form, and are often allowed so that men can gaze under the guise of freedom of expression. It’s nice to see nudity made not for the heterosexual male gaze, and is so distant from sexual it feels zoomorphic. Why are men allowed this nude zoomorphism, while women are still eroticized? It’s a question not quite answered, and there’s so little concern for why.

The film isn’t poorly made in the slightest, so it can’t be faulted there. The dance sequences are beautifully shot, fluid, and a stark contrast to a blank backdrop to help with focus. The white walls stand out from the dirty stage, like untouched air in the human wilderness. Kinetic editing pieces together fragments of the cisgender male body, associating masculinity and flashing words like “phallus”, “male”, and “strength”. It begins to feel like a game of word association, one preaching progress, then going back to reinforce that men are masculine. The close-ups of skindo reinforce a certain vulnerability. The film is trying to reinforce their masculinity rather than divorce the men from these gendered traits fully.

To put it bluntly– to appreciate Bare, you may need to have some appreciation for the penis. It’s on screen constantly, bouncing, jiggling, moving independently of the dancer’s body, almost like its own character. Even the most sex-positive viewer may struggle to engage with a film that so heavily draws the eye here, that never relents in challenging how long we can gaze at the exposed body. I personally struggled to see the point of a film so heavily focused on the beauty of male nudity with little to show outside of it, but maybe I’m just less entertained by a swinging phallus than the average viewer. While not the strongest dance film of recent years, it’s certainly the most devoted to the symbolic expression of genitalia.

Bare screened at this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival, as part of Artscapes program.

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