Documentary Review: ‘The Dilemma Of Desire’

Review by James Lindorf

From the Documentary Spotlight section of the 2020 South by Southwest Film Festival comes Director Maria Finitzo’s (In the Game) feature-length documentary The Dilemma of Desire. Inspired in part by the ground-breaking essay “Uses of the Erotic” by Audre Lorde, Finitzo offers an exploration of “cliteracy.” Highlighting the work of women who are shattering myths about female sexual desire, anatomy, gender politics, and ultimately, power. Biologists, psychologists, artists, sex toy designers, and everyday women share their stories and their pursuits of pleasure and equality.

Artist Sophia Wallace challenges long-held ideas of women with her 100 Natural Laws of Cliteracy project, putting the clitoris front and center as essential to female orgasm. Dr. Stacey Dutton, Assistant Professor of Biology at Agnes Scott College, is committed to taking on the scientific and medical establishment which, for decades, has ignored the legitimacy of the clitoris. Dr. Lisa Diamond is using over 20 years’ worth of research to dismantle outdated notions about women’s arousal. Designer Ti Chang heads Crave, a company dedicated to designing and manufacturing elegant vibrators for women. While these women share the medical, artistic and industrial side of the fight, Finitzo also takes the film out of the clinic and into the beautifully flawed world of the individual.

The Dilemma of Desire is raw and emotional, and a diverse group of women tells its story. While age, race, and gender help influence their unique experience, they all start disadvantaged because women’s sexuality starts with oppression and lies of omission. In the first edition of Grey’s Anatomy there is one single solitary reference to the clitoris in the table of contents, but it is not actually discussed on the page listed. In contrast, there are multiple pages dedicated to male sexual organs. Women are in the middle of a sexual revolution, and many of these women are on the front line. Finitzo picked an intriguing subject that is bound to draw a lot of attention; the next biggest thing was to choose the best people to follow and interview for her film. They all bring something interesting to the film. Still, the work of Dr. Dutton and the personal stories are of particular interest. They aren’t promoting themselves along with their message; they are sharing their stories and facts. They are sharing battles between sexuality and religion, along with their self-discovery.

The biggest fault with The Dilemma of Desire is that it may have worked better as a docu-series than as a single film. While throughout the film there are moments of tremendous editing, the movie suffers from too many ideas. As the film nears its running time, thoughts start flying by at a furious pace. Topics that could be their own episode or feature-length movie, such as catcalling, gets 30 seconds of coverage while rape culture gets maybe 90 seconds. These are ideas that should have either been excised completely or given their due. In their current state, they offer little more than suggestions for further research. Stuffing too many ideas into a film is often a very significant failing that can spell doom for the project, yet I believe the power and passion in The Dilemma of Desire can outshine any of its flaws.

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