Envying her roommate Jagoda's0 lack of sexual inhibiton, Yugoslav twentysomething Malena resists the attentions of fomer lover Radmilovic and tests her faith in the theories of Wilhelm Reich by sleeping with Russia ice skater Vladimir Ilyich, who is driven by the power of his orgasm to decapitate her with his skates.
Dusan Makavejev had read Wilhelm Reich's Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis as a student and had been impressed by his contention that what Marx had done for economic society, Freud had done for the human organism. But he was also aware of the ironies within Reich's own career, which saw him exiled from both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany for seeking to break down the barriers limiting creativity, only to be persecuted in the United States for being a medical charlatan. Indeed, the man who had given his life to love and liberty ended up dying alone in a federal prison in 1957, having had his books burned.
In 1969, Makavejev accepted a German television commission to make a programme about Reich's theories. But he soon realised that a documentary approach would not do them justice. So, he added a framing Yugoslav story to create a collage of factual and fictional elements that was designed to subvert repression through wit and hint at the joys that were possible through physical and psychological freedom. However, Makavejev was also keen for viewers to engage actively with the film and, thus, left many of the sequences unresolved so that they had to arrive at their own conclusions. Unfortunately, the film's suppression in Eastern Europe and its limited distribution elsewhere (mostly as a porn flick) meant that few audiences were exposed to *W.R.*'s barrage of ideas. Typically, the critics were divided as to its meaning and described it variously as a political satire, an essay on applied sexology, a doomed romantic melodrama, an autobiographical fragment and a piece of agit-prop Pop Art. But most agreed that Makavejev had handled his material with comic and artistic assurance, particularly in his use of associational montage. Yet in highlighting the mockery of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, the majority of Western commentators conveniently overlooked the fact that this was a morally balanced, as well as socially ennervating and visually poetic exercise, that also attacked America for its misuse of liberty and the casual manner in which it had allowed sex to be commercialised and harnessed to the capitalist cause.
An unusual format and structure has meant that this fascinating exploration of one man's theories on the human condition is largely unknown and underappreciated.