Why Is Touch Sometimes So Touching?: The Phenomenology of Touch in Susan Streitfeld’s Female Perversions

Kohei Furuya


The film Female Perversions (1996) has received mixed reviews in newspapers and popular magazines. Critics have made appreciative comments on the powerful feminist message of the film, while many reviews registered frustration at the overuse of vulgarised Freudian psychoanalytic discourses in the film. Apart from those film reviews, however, many viewers have been somehow touched by the film and especially by the last scene, in which Eve physically ‘touches’ a girl’s face—though they do not know exactly why they felt the film was so good.The difficulty of discussing the film Female Perversions lies in its contradictory appeal to the audience. While the film calls on the audience—most likely to be either ‘art-film’ fans or ‘professional’ viewers—to participate in the discussion about contemporary sexual politics, it eventually encourages them to suspend such a cerebral way of appreciating the film and to engage emotionally and physically in it as ‘lay’ cinema fans enjoy a nice entertainment movie. This apparently ‘highbrow’ film illuminates the very gap between the sophisticated analytic mode of film-watching and a more sensual and corporeal cinematic experience, and in a very subtle manner it invites us to move from the former mode of filmic experience to the latter.This paper aims to describe in words the film, the audience, and the intertwining of the two as a sensual, material, and corporeal being. For this purpose, this paper focuses on the moments of ‘touch’ in the film, the effect of which plays a crucial role in the subtle shift of the filmic mode mentioned above. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological reflection on touch, this paper textualises what happens when touch happens in the film, how touch serves to produce the power of the film, and how it works on us when we are watching it.


Phenomenology; Female Perversions; Merleau-Ponty; Psychoanalysis; Feminism; Audience

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