“Do you think he’s cheating on her?”
“Maybe she’s cheating on him.”
Carla (Julie Ashton), who we first see copulating with Eddie (Tony Tedeschi), is married to Justin (Joel Lawrence). Eddie, meanwhile, is married to Gwen (Tina Tyler), albeit unhappily. In fact, when the couples get together for dinner, Gwen happily announces, to the apparent dismay of her philandering husband, that she and Eddie will divorce. It seems all is not well in suburbia.
Next up is Max (Steve Hatcher), who we first meet in a diner, explaining to his sceptical colleagues, Eddie and Justin, that it’s he, rather than they, who knows what women want. “You kiss your wives asses. Chicks don’t dig that.” Shortly afterwards we see this enlightened relationship philosophy in action as he enjoys a recreational lunch break with girlfriend Nikkita (Nikkita), before berating her for something inconsequential and dashing back to the office. From this point on, with the six principal characters and their relationships established, the despair-driven bed-hopping really gains momentum, a momentum that’s maintained throughout the entire movie.
Bliss isn’t a feel good movie by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, the title is blatantly ironic. The central characters are either unwilling or unable to save their relationships and don’t even seem to take any great satisfaction from their infidelities. By the end of the movie we have Eddie reduced to masturbating in a seedy hotel, Justin sat desolate at a bar and Carla asserting her happiness with tears in her eyes. Indeed, the only people who seem to find any satisfaction amidst the unravelling relationships are Gwen and Max. Gwen, whose primary interest seems to be seducing Carla, and Max, a misanthrope who fails to see the contradiction in reproaching Justin for sleeping with Nikkita while he’s having an affair with Carla. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that, while none of the characters display any obvious moral code, the most genuinely odious figure (Max) largely avoids the misery afflicting those around him. However, before we read too much into that, it’s worth remembering that none of the characters is especially likeable and they have all been betrayed by the time the credits roll.
This is the closest director Antonio Pasolini has come to the domestic melodramas for which Paul Thomas is so revered but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of, for example, Bad Wives or Façade. Part of the problem lies with the cast. Julie Ashton, who looks fabulous on the cover, was a major star at this point but simply doesn’t have the acting chops to convince as the Prozac-enhanced serial adulterer. Chloe, who plays a minor role as a predatory barfly, would undoubtedly have been more compelling. Joel Lawrence and Tina Tyler, predictably, fare better but Tony Tedeschi looks out of his depth and Steve Hatcher is little short of terrible. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only problems.
Pasolini presents some interesting images throughout, showing a particular fondness for reflective surfaces, but there is a definite over-reliance on tight close-ups. The sex scenes are too long anyway – the first twenty minutes are consumed by the furtive encounter between Ashton and Tedeschi, intercut with some brief scene-setting – but they could certainly have been handled better. It doesn’t help that this was shot on video either, because the apparent seriousness of the project isn’t helped by the synthetic appearance of the finished product.
This was Pasolini’s third directorial undertaking and, although the other two (Café Flesh 2 and The Devil In Miss Jones 6) contained considerable darkness, both had comedic touches and fetishistic costuming to counterbalance it. Bliss, on the other hand, is unremittingly bleak. This will be either a strength or a weakness depending on your perspective but it would be naïve not to acknowledge that some viewers will find it alienating. From my point of view, I wanted to like Bliss more than I actually did. Some of the best adult movies have been informed by a pessimistic view of human relationships but this simply isn’t as well-executed as it needed to be.