Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
In “Rocco,” sex performer Rocco Siffredi presents himself as a porno Man of Sorrows. The camera ruefully venerates him, as do the young women he “breaks” on camera. The picture opens with a languorous close-up of Rocco’s flaccid cock. Huge and somehow glowing, the organ has mystical presence, and Rocco talks about it in careful phrases. It’s a cross, an Excalibur — a totem charged with ambivalent meaning. It gets Rocco into trouble, but it saves him, too. When, according to a story he tells on camera, he visited the aged friend of his recently deceased mamma (like all Italian men, Rocco adores his mamma), he was lost for words. Then he pulled out his cock and let her suck it until he climaxed. For Rocco the encounter is a kind of sacrament — a physical act with metaphysical implications. How better to commemorate mamma?
Directors Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai foreground the profane and intentionally muddle it with the sacred. Their Rocco fucks to expiate our sins. By doing so he saves us from the ordeal of acting out our darkest fantasies, perhaps screwing them up in the process. Like Catholic penitents, the featured performers seek absolution through flagellation. One young starlet encourages Rocco to stick his fist into her mouth. He obliges her, then tenderly compliments her on the resulting tears. Another, the doll-like Casey Calvert, proudly shows Rocco a photo of her back; it’s been bloodily marred by a ten-foot bullwhip. She says it was taken before she got into porn. Even then, she yearned to suffer. There’s a canned, reality-TV aspect to all of this, yet that unmediated, putting-yourself-on-display quality is essential to the movie’s impact, perhaps because it’s about the act of offering oneself up for sacrifice.
Rocco himself is a fascinating camera subject. Grave but also serene, his large eyes are sympathetic and all-consuming, like the eyes of an icon. It’s not hard to understand why art-film director Catherine Breillat cast him in two movies. In those movies Breillat, like Demaizière and Teurlai, views the actor through a halo of religiosity. “When I looked at Rocco in the eye,” confesses Breillat, “then I felt that I was looking into my sister’s eye. There was this loss of identity and a transcendence in that identification … I never felt myself transposed as much into a body of a man as I did with Rocco.”
“Rocco” goes a bit sour when it pulls in a British woman whom the directors allow to babble about empowerment (this feels like an attempt to preempt criticism), and I think their decision to literalize the crucifixion theme is more dopey than daring. But for much of its running time “Rocco” is a bracingly physical take on sex, performance, and heightened states like ecstasy and suffering. Let’s hope its subject doesn’t get Weinsteined in the near future.