Tag Archives: french

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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Amour (2012)

Amour (2012)

In films dealing with love the norm typically sees two different characters collide and, after a number of episodes, realise how suited they are for each other. Michael Haneke‘s Amour (2012, 127 mins.) comes to love later, much later, in life as two (very suited) octogenarian’s face the end of their time together.

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are retired music teachers living in a Parisian apartment who we first see together in a crowd at a musical concert before heading home on the bus to discover that there’s been an attempted break-in:

Georges: Why does anyone break in? To steal something.

Anne: From us?

Georges: Why not?

The seeming randomness of this burglary — the notion that it can happen to anyone — foreshadows the story’s driving event. At breakfast, as they talk with each other, Anne suffers silently a stroke. When she comes round, she has no recollection of the previous minutes. The family doctor investigates, and following tests and a failed operation,  new complications arise and the comfortable life the couple had together is lost as Anne experiences first paralysis and then dementia.

Apart from a few brief post-credit scenes, the film is set entirely within the Laurents’ apartment. The world outside passes at an unknown stretch. Maids and nurses come and go. A former pupil drops by unannounced, his talk of the past highlighting Anne’s fading memory. And their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), harps on at her father to put her mother into care, a well-intentioned suggestion at odds with her mother’s wishes and an indictment of the younger generation’s proclivity for sweeping things under the carpet. Georges, of his older generation, is invested in his situation to the end — till death do us part, if you will.

The suggestion of love in Amour‘s title steps away from what most other films perceive as love (which is arguably more like romance) and does its own investigation into what love means. Haneke’s take is a far remove from any romantic notions, picturing not only a woman’s physical and mental decline but her husband’s dogged determination to keep her with him to his own detriment.  The question of how one retains their dignity in the wake of everyone’s good intentions is asked, if not answered. The delivery is wholly unsentimental, the camera’s gaze unflinching; neither judging or assessing anything it sees. Visual and spoken clues are left to the viewer. The approach is never didactic. Instead, we watch scenes play out and apply our own meaning.

The performances in the film are superb. Trintignant’s initial lustre fades over the duration, his face always revealing unspoken concerns and hidden depths. He also displays some physical change, brought on by the stress of the situation. But it’s Riva’s role that demands the greater range as she moves through the stages of decline, which she expertly does. Her face is extremely expressive, even when Anne is at her most distant: during the initial stroke or asked to recall something during a conversation that she cannot. In all the pain that Anne experiences, you can believe Riva feels it too.

The conclusion of Amour is one foregone as the film opens with firemen breaking into the Laurents’ apartment and finding Anne’s corpse shrinelike in bed. How it comes to be thus is the thrust of the film. It’s a painful watch, especially with foreknowledge, and Haneke ensures tight storytelling so that, in its two hour running time, nothing feels excessive. It’s a tour-de-force of film making that lingers long on the mind.

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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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