The Training of Poe (Part I)
Starring: Chelsea Poe, Mistress Bella Vendetta
Directed by: Mistress Bella Vendetta
Produced by: Beautiful Revenge Productions
I’ve been hearing about The Training of Poe for months now. Mistress Bella Vendetta’s first feature-length film, chronicling the submissive training of queer porn heartthrob Chelsea Poe, made ripples in the kinky queer community when it debuted earlier this year. It’s headed to the first annual Toronto International Porn Festival this weekend, which I sadly won’t be able to attend. And so, to console myself for my absence, I thought this week I’d take in the film that looks likely to clean up at the festival.
Here’s the thing, though: I travel in a lot of kinky circles, and I report on kinky matters…but I’m not particularly deep into the kink or BDSM lifestyle, personally. Master/slave relationships are deeply interesting to me, and I’m eager to celebrate them as a healthy form of expression for those who are into it. But, for me, the Dom/sub dynamic isn’t something that feels necessary. So I’ve never really familiarized myself with filmed training of this kind. Thus, when I got my hands on a review copy of the film, I was equally excited and nervous. I didn’t know what I was about to get into, and I wasn’t sure how much of it I’d be comfortable watching. I’m not averse to depravity, per se, but intensity can get…well…intense. And Master/slave training feels, from afar, as if it might get pretty intense.
And, you know, it did.
But at no point did it make me feel uncomfortable. Actually, it kept me riveted.
The Training of Poe begins with a video diary made by Chelsea Poe the night before her formalized slave training begins under the tutelage of Mistress Bella Vendetta. Poe is excited to follow her kinky dreams to fruition, but nervous about the length and severity of the training she’s about to go through. But from the moment she enters her Mistress’s presence, undergoes a thorough series of questions about her desires, hard limits, and level of experience, it becomes clear that far more than pain or punishment, this film is about trust. And, as it continues, it reveals the joy that this trust can bring.
Mistress Bella proclaims early in the film that “some of the best slaves in the world have come from [Her] house,” and Her years of experience as the facilitator of deep trust and fulfillment shines through in nearly every moment of the film. Mistress Bella is calm, composed, friendly but stern in equal measures, and attentive, even when She’s using “Slave Poe” (as agreed upon by both parties early in the process) as a footstool or reprimanding her for incorrectly begging for mercy. From the homework She provides Her trainee—carefully formulated to enhance the daytime training regimen—to the various lessons She doles out on proper posture and performance, Bella communicates clearly and with a sort of benevolence that delighted me. Although Poe’s training centers around the abdication of the self (for instance, Mistress Bella points out on numerous occasions that requests must be couched only in terms of what the Mistress wants, not what the slave desires), it is clear that every exercise is designed more to fulfill the slave’s needs than to suit a passing whim of the Mistress. And the excitement this care elicits is visible: As Poe goes through the paces in learning slave etiquette, properly begging for punishment or mercy, and submitting to and enjoying pain—almost always naked—her arousal is visible.
Both Poe and Vendetta are experienced porn performers, so I moved through the film wondering if there would be graphic sex. But although Poe spends most of her time nude and being taught that “Everything slaves do…is to be done with sex in mind,” there is no sex of any kind until the very end of the film, when Poe gleefully performs her homework on video according to her Mistress’s very specific instructions. Her training as a performer may help to bump this scene up somewhat, but I think it’s more the raw intensity of emotions that she’s experienced for days finally being released that makes this scene so impressive. The close quarters of her slave nook make it impossible for the scene to be very explicit, and the awkwardness of the space means that Poe must go through a series of contortions to get things to work just right (no spoilers!). But the end result is nevertheless a scene of such blistering sexual intensity that I can hardly remember being more aroused in my decade of reviewing porn.
I’m not exaggerating.
Although moments of the film can look relatively mundane (for instance, we spend what may be an excessively long time watching Poe eating dinner out of a dog bowl), there is something much deeper happening here, between Mistress and slave. Something that’s difficult to put into words. Something that I encourage you to watch the film to understand.
If you’re not sure what I mean, I’ll tell you where to find it. In the second half of the film, Mistress Vendetta takes Poe to a rushing river, where she introduces her slave to water torture—an exercise in trust and endurance. At around 1:15:00, Poe spends several minutes bent over a large rock, her white dress soaked and sticking to her legs, as her Mistress lashes her with an exceptionally long whip (wielded expertly and effortlessly, by the way). When the lashing is over, Poe crawls back to Bella on all fours through the water, then assumes slave posture on her knees, her palms and face turned up. She thanks her Mistress with a look of pure, unguarded bliss on her features. Mistress Bella stands before her in a long black skirt that makes Her appear even taller, more powerful as She looms over Her submissive, whip held strongly in Her hand. Bella’s aesthetic is all dark power throughout the film (and everywhere else I’ve ever seen Her), and in this moment, She fully embodies the role of the dark sorceress, the witch, the healer. In Poe’s joyful surrender, I could literally see Mistress Bella Vendetta creating, respecting, and holding a sacred space for Poe to safely have this experience. It was beautiful.
To be honest, I’d never considered myself as a candidate for lifestyle submission before. And I’m still not convinced that I have what it takes. But witnessing the consensual exchange of power in The Training of Poe, and the skill with which Mistress Vendetta handled what Poe gave Her to deliver exactly what she needed, really made me rethink that position. Everyone deserves this kind of joy, and maybe some of us need to rethink how to get it.
PS – There’s the implication that a The Training of Poe (Part II) might be forthcoming, and I am excited, to say the least, by the prospect! The world needs more films that demystify BDSM, celebrate the enthusiastic consensual exchange of power, and honestly depict the pleasure that this exchange can bring, and I’m glad to have seen this one.