Aug 132021

S&M Judge, originally titled SM Rechter, is a Belgian 2009 drama based on a true story. (IMDB)

(Note: my understanding of this film is based on the English subtitles of a French-dubbed version of this film, not the original Dutch. Also, I don’t know anything about the Belgian legal system.)

Koen Allegaerdts (Gene Bervoets) is a judge, so dedicated to his work that he doesn’t notice his wife, Magda (Veerle Dobbelaere), is depressed until she has a breakdown on their 15th anniversary. Magda expresses her frustrated desires to Koen by showing him her sketchbook of women in bondage. Instead to talking about it with Magda, Koen turns to his male friend and his family doctor to ask about this.

Magda herself has no deeper understanding of her desires.

Their first scene doesn’t go well, as Koen fears going too hard on her. The bondage gear they attached to the ceiling of their bedroom breaks, and the resulting noise wakes their teenage daughter. Based on an ad in a magazine, they decide to go to a club.

Over several years, Koen and Magda become regulars in the local scene. One scene shows them on the stage playing, while a couple in vanilla wear watches nervously, reversing the former situation. It’s an integrated part of their marriage, even if they’re in the closet to their daughter.

Magda says she wants to go further. Koen rents out the entire club for a private session, and has two other men top her in an intensive bondage scene. Unknown to Koen , who is out of the room, one of the two men takes photographs of Magda (who is blindfolded) in bondage, against Koen and Magda’s wishes. Also unknown to Koen and Magda, the man who tops Magda is under surveillance by the police.

The photographs of Magda become evidence in a prosecution of Koen, which is driven by another judge who has a grudge against him. The police arrest Koen, and they treat Magda as a rape victim. They deny the idea she could consent to such acts is denied. They question Iris, the now-college-age daughter, if she was involved in her parents’ “acts”, and even raise the possibility of repressed memories.

In court, the arguments cover similar legal territory to the over the Operation Spanner case in the UK and other legal cases involving BDSM, such as consent as a defense for bodily harm, and the boundary between public and private, especially for public officials. Koen and his lawyer argue that a person’s marriage and sexual life, even a judge’s, is private.

The prosecutor displays videotapes Koen and Magda made for themselves in a chalet, showing some relatively harsh play like sewing Magda’s vulva shut, piercing her nipples and even branding her with his initials. The vignettes we see of this emphasize the love and consent between husband and wife, suggesting that this is not conveyed in the video tapes.

The trial ends with Koen found guilty of assault and battery and solicitation for prostitution, with a one-year suspended sentence. Koen resigns as a judge. Their daughter, now college-age, disowns them, and Magda tells him she wants a divorce. This pushes Koen to attempt suicide by slitting his wrists in the bathtub. Magda finds him in time.

While recovering in the hospital, Koen sees Magda go on a talk show to directly confront the other judge and defend her husband. She brings up that her first husband abused her and was never prosecuted, even when she wanted it. Their daughter also sees the talk show. This leads to Koen, Magda and their daughter reconciling.

SM Rechter doesn’t go particularly deep into this story’s issues; for example, should the law have intervened in Magda’s abusive previous marriage, even if she hadn’t asked for help? Some plot points don’t make much sense, such as Iris disowning her parents apparently for the idea that they have any kind of sexual life, not that they are doing advanced BDSM.

The ultimate point is that, BDSM is how Koen and Magda express their love. Sexuality (at least in this case, of a married, heterosexual couple) is a private matter and the state has no business in people’s bedrooms.

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