Tag Archives: Bertrand Bonello

The Pornographer (2001)

The Pornographer (2001)

In 1968 civil unrest swept across France, the useless old guard rocked by student sit-ins and workers’ downed tools. For Jacques Laurent (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the subject of Bertrand Bonello‘s The Pornographer (2001, 111 mins), his protest came in the form of making pornographic movies. What started as defiance led to a forty-film career that took him through the seventies and eighties by way of classics such as Schoolgirl Hotel and Perverse Niçoise.

It’s financial difficulties that bring Laurent back into the porno fold to direct another movie. He debates with his colleagues the storyline; he advises his stars on how they should feel; he wants love to blossom from the sex and for his female star to symbolise this by swallowing her co-star’s ejaculate. No moody music, no garish cosmetics, and no faked orgasmic screams. Laurent’s porn, while once protest, is now a means of expression.

Times have changed, however, and the artful pornography of Laurent’s heyday have since been debased, leaving hastily shot, lurid sex that is about pure titillation and quick cash. If we are to contrast the difference between these two visions, then Laurent’s bowed head and sunken heart as he sits watching his actors (real life porn stars, Ovidie and Titof) perform unsimulated sex while his producer calls the shots, captures this succinctly. The movie drifts away from him, much as the genre has.

Straddling Laurent’s professional life, there’s the personal. After years out of the picture, his student radical son Joseph (Jérémie Renier) has got back in touch. They last met when his career as pornographer was outed, the son promptly leaving in disgust. He may be of a new generation, but it’s a new generation that also dreams of protest, although their efforts languish in the shadow of 1968.  As Joseph learns, some protests are without conviction, but what his father knows, based on experience, is that each generation will reject the values of its predecessor.

The one film Laurent never got to make was The Animal, he confesses to a journalist. It would have involved men hunting a woman in a forest as if she were a fox. And through more introspective moments we see it envisioned across his mind’s eye. It looks likely that it will never be made at all. While his wife accepts his work and his son learns to forgive it, and even the industry is bringing him back into the fold, he cannot accept himself. A man of fifty who knows nothing else in life.  As he notes in a passing conversation, obscenity isn’t necessarily base. When people thing of Jacques Laurent they immediately think of his pornography; they never consider his life. And that, he thinks, is more obscene.

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Where The Boys Are (2010)

Where The Boys Are (2010)

Not to be confused with the 1960 film of the same name, Bertrand Bonello‘s short film Where The Boys Are (2010, 22 mins.) features four girls sitting around in a Parisian apartment dreaming of boys while, across the street, a group of Arab and African men are putting the finishing touches to the Gennevilliers mosque.

As it opens one of the girls, Pauline (Pauline Etienne), is translating the lyrics of the eponymous song by Connie Francis for her friends and they look on dreamily, no doubt imagining the man they will one day meet (“a smilin’ face, a warm embrace, two arms to hold me tenderly”). Having the mosque with its many men at work acts as a physical realisation of where the boys are. However, if the distance to these men is easily spannable, the distance presented is more abstract. Religion, race, or maybe something else — Bonello is deliberately opaque.

In one scene the screen is quartered, each quadrant showing one of the girls at home, bored and restless (“Till he holds me I’ll wait impatiently”). They listen to music, send dull text messages to each other, or browse photos on their social networks. The implied impatience is the girls’ waiting to mature from their current fantasies. However, what they don’t see in their naïvete is that the adult world, as portrayed by the workers, is just as humdrum.

During a party, where too much alcohol is drunk, the Francis song plays once more, as the girls pair off and dance arm in arm they appear vulnerable and in need of reassurance. In the background the mosque can be seen, its minaret reaching into the air — a subtle phallic symbol, perhaps. It’s debatable given the girls’ actions whether it’s a symbol of longing for their imaginary boys or one of rejection as they find solace in each other. As the film follows the song, it perhaps exploits an ambiguity in the lyrics. For all the song’s mention of a mythical he, it notes only that “someone waits for me”.

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