Maximum Shame (2010) – By Nic Brown

When your lover is a woman who loves to talk about numbers, doing a “69” can take on a whole new meaning. Of course, her proclivity for discussing numbers and their meanings may take a back seat to more pressing matters, if you think the world is about to be swallowed up in a black hole. That is the start of MAXIMUM SHAME by Spanish filmmaker Carlos Atanes.

Paco Moreno plays the man burdened with a belief that our world is coming to an end. Rather than tell his lover (Ana Mayo), he decides to let her enjoy what he believes is her last night. He does however decide to leave her briefly to visit another place, perhaps to seek shelter, or perhaps to seek punishment for his own weakness in the face of the endtimes. Whatever the case, he has his reasons for hiding under the bed. However, for this man, hiding under the bed is not just the equivalent of hiding his head in the sand, because he somehow passes into another world.

In the other world, he is known as The Rook and here he is subject to the whims of The Queen (Marina Gatell) and her toady, The Pawn. The Queen is a fickle, self-centered woman who imposes her will on the few occupants of this other place, that looks like an abandoned factory. The Queen is not sympathetic to her Rook as she manipulates the chess pieces that are her subjects. In fact, she teaches him the meaning of a gambit in chess by stabbing him in the throat with a spear and leaving him lying on the floor to suffer, but not to die from her wound to him.

Somehow The Rook’s lover finds her way into this strange, world of domination and subjugation, only to be captured by the Queen and her Bishop (Ardiana Ferrer). The Bishop is kept in a perpetual state of hunger by the Queen who’s used bondage gear to leave the Bishop’s mouth locked open so she cannot chew the food placed in front of her.
The Rook’s lover is beaten into unconsciousness and when she recovers, she meets yet another of the players trapped in the Queen’s game, The Knight (Ignasi Vidal). The Knight explains the rules of the world to her; they are simple – if you feel pain then it is real, everything else… well it may be a dream, it may be real. The only thing for certain is that it will be unpleasant for anyone who must experience it.

Drawn into The Queen’s game, The Rook’s lover is christened as another Bishop, and she must play her role in this strange world of pain and degradation. Will she find her lover or will this new Bishop discover nothing but humiliation and pain at the hands of a mad Queen?

Carlos Atanes is a unique filmmaker. I won’t claim to fully understand any of his works that I have seen, but I will say that he has an eye for artistic filmmaking that is rare in the often cookie-cutter world of filmmaking. MAXIMUM SHAME is not like any other film I’ve seen. The movie is filled with bondage and domination imagery that appears to be done not for sexual gratification, but rather for the sheer sake of the control that it represents. Atanes uses very few special effects, but instead relies on creative cinematography and visual misdirection to create the feelings of travel between worlds and the strangeness of the other place. The world left by The Rook and his lover The Bishop, is seen only as their tiny, Spartan bedroom. The world of The Queen is a huge, desolate interior landscape created inside a ruined factory, perhaps symbolic of the decay that might be expected in a world subject to the whims of a mad Queen.

Whatever the case, MAXIMUM SHAME is a surrealist film that asks the viewer to accept the world as Atanes sees it and, if your mind can do that, then perhaps you can unwrap the mysteries of this other place with The Bishop as she seeks her lover and her own escape. I would not recommend MAXIMUM SHAME to anyone who is looking for a traditional film with a well defined beginning, middle and end. Atanes’ vision doesn’t lend itself to that. If, however, you are someone who can appreciate a surrealist view of a world filled with images of bondage and domination then perhaps you can unravel the mysterious meaning of Carlos Atanes’ film MAXIMUM SHAME.