A modest treatise on flatulence and films

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The Independent Online

Today I take the unusual step of recommending a film. In a world awash with enthusiasm for mediocre achievements we normally see it as our duty in this column not to disparage or deride exactly, but certainly to discommend, to speak dissuasively of, to pour a little cold water on the fervency of popular taste. But as of now all that changes. I am in a benign temper.

Today I take the unusual step of recommending a film. In a world awash with enthusiasm for mediocre achievements we normally see it as our duty in this column not to disparage or deride exactly, but certainly to discommend, to speak dissuasively of, to pour a little cold water on the fervency of popular taste. But as of now all that changes. I am in a benign temper.

Several explanations for that, but in the end I think it is down to age. Tomorrow I become too old to be a firebrand. From here on in it's all Hamlet on the brink of his destiny – sweeter than before, resigned, forgiving. The readiness is all.

The other reason for recommending a film is that I am up to here with lists of the 100 greatest movies of all time – whether compiled by the critics of Sight and Sound, readers of Time Out, or the inmates of Rampton – which never have a film in it I like. Up they come again, year in year out, the same old titles – Citizen Kane, Some Like it Hot, Dr Strangelove, with the cult fim Withnail And I (can you still be a cult if everybody likes you?) sandwiched somewhere in between.

No Mike Nichol's Carnal Knowledge, no Milos Forman's Taking Off, no John Cassavetes' Love Streams, no Dusan Makavejev's Montenegro, – all deemed "formless" in Halliwell who's always wrong – and no Fred Coe's A Thousand Clowns, one of the schmaltziest movies ever made, but one I happen to like, so what's wrong with that! Also no Bigas Luna's The Tit and the Moon. That's the film I wish to commend to your attention today. The Tit and the Moon.

Shame about the title. It sounds better in the original Spanish. La Teta I La Luna. Altogether rounder and more euphonious. And I suspect teta retains more of teat than tit does. Whether Spanish men lean out of moving cars to scream "Show us your tetas" at women innocently going about their business I don't know. But I have a feeling that's an Anglo-Saxon custom. So already the film is losing something in translation.

There are other aspects of the film I need to apprise you of before you go out and try to find it. There is farting in it. To be precise, it features a character who makes a living with a travelling circus, lighting his farts and firing air darts from his behind. Not much of a living, but it doesn't fall to all of us to bring in a weekly wage doing what we're best at.

My own attitude to this is that it isn't funny. Farting altogether, that is. Not funny. I welcome the opportunity to state this with some force because farting featured in the television series about comedy I made for Channel 4 a few years ago, as a consequence of which people thought farting was to my taste. Not so.

But history imposes obligations. I could no more illustrate the ancient comedy of the body's banquettings and funerals without alluding to farting than Simon Schama could take us through the dissolution of the monasteries without mentioning Henry VIII; but that doesn't mean that Simon Schama approves of hanging wives who can't provide you with the requisite offspring.

This wasn't my only televisual brush with farting. In the course of making a documentary about Australia in the early Nineties I stumbled upon a bean-eating and crepitation competition in a pub in Darwin. The laws of cinéma vérité demanded that we shoot it. Fine by English viewers but unacceptable to Americans. So we gave them a five-minute boat trip on the Katherine River instead.

The only trouble was that while we were filming in Katherine Gorge an unknown person suddenly stuck his head above the water, said "Good morning", then disappeared again. The Americans insisted on a caption explaining who this person was, what he was doing in the river, and why, if indeed he didn't know me, he said "Good morning". This is one of the reasons I don't care for movies made by Americans.

But in the matter of farting, at least, I agree with them. That and their foreign policy.

One other word of warning about La Teta I La Luna. It is inclined to cuteness of the magic realist sort. Sight and Sound notices Bigas Luna's "seamless segues between reality and fantasy", and it is true that the film negotiates the borderlands of what is and what one would like to be with charm and intelligence.

What one would like to be is a bit of a trap, though, especially for film-makers conscious of the Spanish and Spanish-American traditions. That the beautiful circus ballerina – whose tetas, by the by, feature prominently in the film – should find the petomane's feet as arousing as she finds his farts is downright silliness, but that she should collect his tears in a phial and be stirred erotically by those as well, is, to use the language of Sight and Sound, bollocks.

Otherwise I commend the film to you without reservation. Yes, it's about male fixation with the breast, but what isn't? And yes, the scenes of sibling rivalry are uncomfortably explicit and, for some of us, still painful – the full teat that once was ours, and ours alone, now at the disposal of a stranger's gums. But life is cruel and the milk of human kindness does not always flow where we would wish it to.

This cruelty finds its most sublime expression in The Tit and the Moon in the songs of unrequited longing, sung with marvellous rasping Catalonian desolation by the young electrician who gets a shock whenever the circus ballerina shakes his hand. "Fuck flamenco!" explodes the ballerina's lover, but he is French, a fart artist, and fast losing his powers. Me, I love flamenco. All sore throat and hopeless yearning.

But then I would love that at my age, with another serious birthday coming up. No matter. The readiness is all. And failing everything else, there is always the moon.

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