The Other Side of the Underneath

The Other Side of the Underneath ★★★★

Apparently the only British film directed solely by a woman (Jane Arden) in the 1970s, The Other Side of Underneath is quite harrowing and claustrophobic, taking us into the minds of female psychiatric patients in Wales, with discordant screeching sounds and strange searing and hallucinatory images. It seems to subvert not only polite society but also the repression of sexuality; late in the film we have a relative, almost idyllic sense of freedom, with an open air coupling. There’s something of Max Ernst and Edvard Munch about the film, but this is very much from a female perspective, implying that society for too long has damagingly frowned on female sexual feelings as unclean. Scenes with romanies and a few black children are telling, underlining the shared status of unwanted powerless outsiders. Alongside almost infernal visions, the film also questions attitudes to religion and neglect of a more natural life.

Maybe wretchedly self-indulgent, relentless and disgusting to some, for me it’s a serious, persuasive and emotion-churning examination of “mental illness”, one of the boldest films to emerge from the UK, but one from which i was relieved to step out into the warm sunlight.

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