“I was born in 1894, a scorpion turned over in the belly of its mother,” wrote Claude Cahun, the striking Surrealist artist known for her self-portraits, which are gender-bending metaphors of identity in flux. The sentence is read in voice-over in Barbara Hammer’s self-described “expanded documentary,” a collage portrait of Cahun and her lover and stepsister, Marcel Moore. Mixing bits of autobiographical writings by both women (some of which are performed by actors), sections of an unpublished script written by Cahun and interviews with current residents of the Isle of Jersey (where the women lived in the latter half of their lives) with scholarly analysis, photographs, drawings and archival footage, the film is a rich stew of information. Hammer allows for contradictions and differences of opinion, and superimposes many of the images, while the multilayered sound design by Pamela Z similarly emphasizes the film’s plurality of sources. Hammer’s goal is to honor the artists’ surrealist inclinations by allowing viewers to piece together the history themselves. But the real strength of Lover Other is the astounding lives lived by these women — not only their controversial relationship and frank, often erotic, artwork, but their Nazi resistance and subsequent arrest and near execution. (While generally accepted by their neighbors, under the German occupation the women were labeled Jews, perverts and pornographers, and finally imprisoned for their radical efforts.) Cahun’s work is now read as a precursor to postmodern efforts to complicate notions of identity, artistic authorship and the role of art in life. But for Hammer, a no-less-significant fact is how Cahun and Moore responded to history, dedicating their work to the theme of resisting war — sentiments that resonate loudly as we enter our third year in Iraq. (REDCAT; Mon., April 3, 8 p.m. 213-237-2800. www.redcat.org?)
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