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Sex is Comedy
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by Erik Childress

"Filming The Penis & Vagina Monologues"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2003 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Just about every angle of the film-within-a-film process of capturing the creation of cinematic hysteria has been explored. On-set tensions, script problems and narcissistic tendencies by the magicmakers have only scratched the surface for numerous satires and dark dramas about the arduous nature of bringing page-to-screen. It’s only suitable that director Catherine Breillat would take her exploration of sexuality to original lengths by tackling one aspect of filmmaking we’ve never seen adapted to feature status – the sex scene.

In her previous film, Fat Girl, Breillat told the tale of the titular character so obsessed with getting deflowered that she allows the psychopath who just killed her mother and sister to rape her. That was the film’s climax and for an audience, it was very much like rape. A similar sequence was much-discussed in her controversial Romance a few years earlier. Breillat treats the subject with more respect for the audience’s sensibilities this time around, but loses none of its edge.

A film crew sets up on a beach. The sun is out and the water looks beautiful. But the actors and all of the extras are bundled up like Eskimos. The illusion of moviemaking begins to take its form. But there’s one thing you can’t fake and that’s chemistry.

Jeanne (Anne Parillaud, in a fabulous performance) plays the director who has to find someway to make her actors come together (not literally). The Actor (Gregoire Colin, France’s answer to Noah Wyle) is a stubborn pretty boy who thinks The Actress (Roxane Mesquida) is an idiot. Watching them kiss on the beach is an exercise in understated apathy.

Jeanne isn’t even confident in the 15-page sex scene that she wrote. (In script terms, that's a page-a-minute.) She feels she knows what makes boys and girls tick and is determined to maintain control on set so that no unnamed actor calls the shots. Would it be more practical to capture the moment in one shot? How about getting into the mind of the opposite sex while attempting to act out the scene with loyal first assistant director, Leo (Ashley Wanniger)? This moment between them is significant to understanding what has become cliché about actors getting to the down ‘n’ dirty in front of a camera. We believe they are having an intimate moment; it’s sexy to us and it’s far sexier than anything Breillat has ever shot. Then we see the crew has been watching them all along.

Sex is what people do most and admit least,” says Jeanne and ain’t it the truth? Especially in French films where their sheer daring with their bodies is only equaled by their ability to talk about the act ad nauseum. Jeanne’s conversations though have that rare truth about sex where confusion gets in the way of sexiness and big talk never lives up to gametime. In movies, shower scenes are there for titillation (and often substituted with body doubles), but she has trouble getting her actors to take off their socks when she’s trying to invoke a spontaneous feeling.

Like the title implicates, sex is a farce in its very nature and the more you think about it, the more humorous it becomes. There’s nothing sexy about a man being paid to fake his emotions for millions of people. But it’s funny to see him walking on set in a robe with nothing but the pullover prosthetic penis sticking out. The sex scenes in Fat Girl were more troubling than sexy and this film is based on Breillat’s experience shooting one of them (Mesquida was “The Actress” then too.) Did she learn something in people’s response to her previous works or has she found the angle to help us comprehend her agony in trying to present her ideas? Narcissistic? Perhaps. But also very telling, very original and, at times, very humorous.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8210&reviewer=198
originally posted: 10/07/03 16:26:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/13/07 aman comedy 5 stars
2/23/07 surafel is fine 4 stars
3/25/05 Elizabeth S Lighter fare from Catherine Breillat -- more meaningful if you've seen "Fat Girl". 4 stars
10/10/04 bar7om bar7om@yahoo.com 4 stars
1/21/04 dd ddd 4 stars
12/20/03 arase pc 5 stars
12/18/03 ali deved 2 stars
10/21/03 Trevor Gensch Not the world-beater it was hyped to be, but worth a look nonetheless. 4 stars
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  20-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 22-Feb-2005



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