Review by Sarah Williams
The Dilemma of Desire is an entire movie dedicated to the clitoris. Focusing on the underexposed female organ, it's a story of reclaiming sexuality. Not only do we learn an anatomy lesson, but there's the sociology around it, and an unveiling of why so little is common knowledge. It's an exposé on the suppression of women's sexual health, and it's unsettling to see how commonplace it is. As a long-form news story of sorts, Maria Finitzo's film is a cultural acceptance and reclamation of the clitoris in the purest form. This education is referred to as "cliteracy", a portmanteau for understanding women's bodies. It's a word that seems crude at first, but is no more so than any of the male versions that are commonplace.
It's a shame that for so many important topics, the film feels shallow and unrefined. It shifts between a sex education lecture, a showing of yonic art, and then pivots to how much it's taught in schools. The topics discussed aren't all things that would be learned at the same age, leaving a majority of the film much less useful based on the viewer's age. There is also a largely one issue view taken, meaning the film lacks any discussion on how these facts and access to resources may change based on a woman's sexual orientation, ability, class, or race. This intersectionality makes it harder for any nuance to come with the content.
While the film is jumping around, it does highlight some chilling facts about how little we are taught about our own bodies. “In the USA, only 24 states require some sort of sex education, only 13 require that the information be medically accurate.” Less than half of the country requires anything, and only a quarter mandates that that must be real science taught. It's a scary fact, this misinformation, and it does need to be highlighted. What is taught is largely geared towards and about young boys, leaving the rest in the dark over how anything actually works.
The main issue is the film doesn't quite know its audience. The overt feminist themes that are in the premise, title, and marketing, so the audience is already going to be on its side. Yet the film chooses to start from the beginning, blending the biology and sociology lesson on the clitoris with a primer on feminism these viewers simply don't need. The key parts would be best taken out as a short documentary, more of a grab-and-go format to dispatch and garner awareness of how little we know.
The content of the film is all what needs to be marketed to young women, just not as a whole. Some parts of the film are key to when hitting puberty and discovering the body, while others are for when first becoming sexually active, and these are very different contexts. As an educational work outside of learning these things for the first time, The Dilemma of Desire is a well-presented look at what information is withheld and what the truth is, but it struggles to understand what it wants its audience to be, and how to speak to them.
The Dilemma of Desire was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.