Green Porno

Seasons 1 and 2 online at SundanceChannel.com.

First, let me assure my parents (and disappoint anyone who stumbled here looking for masturbatory material) that there’s actually nothing pornographic about Isabella Rossellini’s fantastically weird series of shorts. They’re miniature films about sex, yes, but sex between snails and starfish and dragonflies and other creatures too alien to anthropomorphize. Green Porno isn’t titillating (and surely isn’t meant to be), but it is intriguing and funny and occasionally poignant, even beautiful. Rossellini might be a bit of a kook, but she creates an infectious sense of wonder with her vignettes.

The genius of Green Porno—what transforms it from standard educational fare into something deliriously odd—is that Rossellini delivers everything in the first person. She begins each short with the words “If I were…” (a praying mantis, a barnacle, a whale) and then acts everything out as she describes it, with the help of elaborate arts-craftsy costumes and props. The first season focuses on insects and other creepy-crawlies, and the second concerns itself with marine life, and Rossellini brings a seemingly paradoxical amused solemnity to it all.

Rossellini is in her late fifties, a former model, the gorgeous daughter of the incandescent Ingrid Bergman. We expect her to be elegant and glamorous—and somehow she still is, even as she portrays a snail whose anus rests atop its face. (Eww.) Her old-Hollywood aura gives a strange dignity to the whole enterprise, and her own warped sense of humor provides the counterbalance. She clearly loves her subject matter, which makes the shorts hard to resist.

The series is her baby—she writes, directs, produces, and stars in each short—but her collaborators deserve high praise, too. The costumes and props—most made from paper alone—are particularly imaginative and, in the better-funded second season, dazzlingly ornate, as if a child’s crafts project had been re-created by a team of true artists. In an era of computer special effects and animation, their handmade aesthetic is charmingly distinctive.

Green Porno is an inspired testament to the diversity of the natural world—the lessons are bite-sized but memorable—but ironically, the series is even more enchanting as a showcase of human ingenuity. Anglerfish are cool and all, but they’ve got nothing on Isabella Rossellini and her crew.