Any sentimentality displays emotion in some way excessive to the circumstances that incite it. It can take many forms. The most common is to gush, to overdo feelings of love or friendship, to exaggerate how much one cares, to say more about one's feelings than the feelings themselves convey. One of the less remarked upon is the kind that exaggerates the awfulness of things. Instead of painting the famous rosy pictures, it sees everything darkly, morosely, punishingly. This is the sentimentality of many melodramas that turns what might have been tragedy into kitsch. Aleksandr's Price is that sort of kitsch. Degradation follows degradation, each one more cruel than the one before. Nearly everyone behaves abominably. Those few who don't merely act insensitively, stupidly, or foolishly. Much of the dialogue is cliché. The convention of the psychiatric office is used so obviously, with so little sensitivity to language and dialogue, relying almost completely on other bad movies for how such sessions might sound and look, that it turns, if not comic exactly, certainly into scenes that are nearly ludicrous in their implausibility.
Some viewers seem to think that this might be a gay movie. The director, in an interview included on the DVD, says that his title character is straight. That would seem an odd way of understanding him from what the movie itself presents of him; in fact, it would seem to contradict that depiction. But what is certain is that all the gay men in the movie are depicted as utterly self-interested, mean-spirited sexual predators, largely incapable of anything resembling kindness, sensitivity, or gentleness. The one halfway decent gay man in the movie turns on Alekandr, too, in the end, when he nears his most desperate.
This is the sort of movie that might bill itself as dark, daring, risky, cutting edge. It is none of those things. It is in fact, disturbingly old fashioned, especially in its huge cast of loveless, sexual prowlers who abuse Aleksandr repeatedly for their gratification. The movie, in short, is dully repetitive, despite the downward movement of all Aleksandr does. What is worse, though, is that it seems to imagine itself as hard-hitting and honest when in fact it offers mere melodramatic sentimentality and excess. And its depiction of gay men, especially if the director's own point of view on his main character is to be taken seriously, is reprehensible for its singleminded concentration on cruelty and degradation.
This is the sort of melodrama one might have read in rotten underground pulp novels, the sensationalized and fabricated stories of hustlers, back in the dark ages of the forties and fifties. Rechy's City of Night was an attempt to turn such fiction into literature. But it is odd to find it seemingly reborn in this movie, bad not only for its weak dialogue and characterization, but also for its sentimentality. It wallows in what it pretends to despise.