Review by Tatiana Miranda
Julia Murat's award-winning film Rule 34 begins with a bang, quite literally. The film derives its name from the online concept that if something exists, there is bound to be a porn version of it. While it's less commentary on the rule itself, the film does play with the duality of situations as they exist in real life and within sexual scenarios. Rule 34, like its namesake, does not hold back in terms of blatant eroticism, opening immediately with shots of cam-girl Simone as she performs for her online audience. It's shocking, and before you know it, it's over, with Simone dressing for her first day of college.
With the shut of her laptop, she announces that now that she is starting college, she is done with pornography, instead choosing to focus on becoming a public defender for domestic abuse cases. Simone's story is told through vignettes as she attends classes and spends time with her peers, including the occasional video chat with her long-term and similarly sexually liberated friend. Slowly though, through her meetings with physical abuse victims and injuries gained from kickboxing, Simone gains a penchant for pain.
In her polyamorous relationship with Coyote and Lucia, she explores this aspect of her sexuality through BDSM and consensual non-consensual scenarios. After a scene between Simone and Lucia reminiscent of the abuse cases Simone is dealing with, she realizes that her fantasies must go beyond her partners to be fulfilled. With a return to her cam-girl ways, Simone goes off the deep end, sharply contrasting her experiences with asphyxiation and sadomasochism with the depictions of domestic abuse that she is meant to condemn.
Rule 34 is straightforward with its depiction of pornography and pain-based sexual fantasies. Nothing about the film comes off as obscene or appealing, even as Simone's entire naked body is displayed and toyed with. Instead, the subject is shown with a sense of anxiety and wary condemnation. It doesn't say that these types of kinks are necessarily bad, but they can lead to unsafe situations without proper communication and boundaries.
Ultimately the film is a clear-cut reflection on modern sexuality and the fine line between sexual liberation and falling into the hands of the patriarchy. Even with its focus on Brazil's domestic abuse issues, as the country has the world's fifth-highest femicide rate, the subject of Rule 34 goes beyond its geographic borders and allows for introspection into the many facets of sexuality, especially regarding the internet.
Rule 34 screened at the 2022 edition of NewFest, which runs October 13-25.