Unfolding over a snappy two-and-a-half-minutes, Dario van Vree’s cheeky short offers a concise-yet-potent expression of female sexuality. Skimming the various offerings in her bookshop, coy 19-year-old Gwen graduates from ‘Love for Dummies’ to sub-Twilight vampire romance before finally settling on a guide to the art of bondage – a tome that initially inspires embarrassed sideways glances. The more she reads, though, the more she finds herself sucked in, and before she knows it she’s helplessly agreeing for the cashier to gift-wrap it for her. This proves to be the final straw. As the musclebound hunk slapping on the wrapping paper and kinkily strapping on the ribbons, Gwen finds herself at the complete mercy of her erotic impulses, much to the shock of her fellow patrons. By this point, though, she doesn’t care. She knows what she likes, and she owns it. Honestly, it says more of substance in its wafer-thin runtime than E. L. James managed in 1,650 pages. Joshua Glenn spoke with the Dutch provocateur himself to further probe Tabook.
Joshua Glenn: What was the inspiration for this film?
Dario van Vree: I was looking for an idea for super short comedy for a wide audience. The film could only be two minutes long, so it had to be a clear and recognisable situation. The conflict of wanting to buy something that one feels embarrassed about is something we’ve probably all experienced. The bondage theme was partially inspired by the immense success of Fifty Shades. It baffles me that BDSM can be the subject of the greatest best seller ever and at the same time remain such a taboo. I mean, we don’t have to share everything with everybody, there needs to be a little mystery too, right? But accepting your deviant sexual preferences is a healthy thing and it would help if there would be a little less shame and judgement surrounding that topic.
JG: Did you share Gwen’s coyness at any point?
DV: The film is autobiographical in the sense that I was in this exact situation at one point in my life. When I was younger and exploring my sexual preferences I found a book, similar to the one in the film. I was ashamed to buy it, even though it was not porn, but an ‘Art Book’. I even tried to hide it under another book about plants at the counter. The cashier gave me a very judgemental look – or maybe he was also just trying to keep his composure. Anyway, I felt terrible. But when I left the bookshop I felt strong and happy, because I had overcome my fear of ridicule and made a step to take ownership a part of myself. It was a liberating experience.
JG: It takes an interesting look at female sexuality. Did you do much research beforehand?
DV: It was not intended to be directly about female sexuality, but more about discovering one’s sexuality in general. Making the main character a girl, however, did have an impact on how the film works, of course. A woman owning her personal sexual preferences is also still a bit of a taboo – slut shaming and so forth. So that makes the message stronger, I think. I wouldn’t say I did a lot of dedicated research in that area. Maybe I have been lucky to have been around women who are not very sexually repressed?
Sex can be a very animalistic thing, it is about power and vulnerability. People can be afraid of that or of losing control or composure. But there is nothing wrong with wanting to be overpowered or wanting to overpower someone else, as long as this is done consensually and both parties are willing to be open and vulnerable to each other. I think this power-aspect of sex is often associated with a non-consensual form: harassment or even rape, and that might scare people away from freely exploring their sexuality.
Let me be clear: consensual power play and harassment are complete opposites. One is about sharing a very intimate desire and having complete trust in each other. The other comes from a deep frustration and a complete disregard for the integrity of another person. I hope that when we can have a more open discussion about sexual preferences in our society we can take away some of that misunderstanding and frustration.
JG: What has the response generally been from the female community?
DV: In the Dutch theatres it played right before the main film: Bridget Jones’ Baby. Which was a good match, with often mothers and daughters or couples watching it together. I’m sure that was a little awkward sometimes, but I hope it started a few conversations. The reactions have been only positive so far. After the online release many people, mostly women, have shared it with friends and with their partners. Maybe the film can serve as way of saying to others: ‘Hey, this is me! Now you know!’ Sort of a ‘coming out’ tool. It can work like that because the film looks very soft and friendly and shows this sexual preference in a healthy way. A lot of people seem to recognise themselves in Gwen at one point in their life. It is really a great thing to see, also for myself, that we’re not alone in that struggle.
JG: What are your thoughts on the Fifty Shades series?
DV: I have not read the entire book, just a few passages and those were terribly written. However, I do applaud the fact that it has opened up a lot of peoples minds to broaden their sexual life and explore it. Also I think that, because it is written as a pulp romance, it is very accessible to a lot of people, which is great. As far as I know about the series, it is not that bad a representation of how consensual power play can work. But again, I haven’t read it and I probably never will. I think I’d rather read or watch something a bit more in depth, like the film Secretary for example.
Tabook is available to watch online at Vimeo.