Sex is Comedy. Directed & Written by Catherine Breillat.
Preconceptions: I seriously considered venturing out into the world to give the CG train wreck that is Green Lantern a look this week, but after vomiting my bored hate all over Dracula, I decided to see if I could find something I'd enjoy, instead. I adored Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard. It was chalk full of interesting subtext, playful visuals and gorgeous saturated colours. I decided to treat myself to another one of her movies and fortunately there are a few on instant Netflix. I picked Sex is Comedy at random from her filmography.
General Review: My first thought as I watched the opening sequence was "Nooooo! A movie about a director, written by a director about how hard it is to be a director! Why oh WHY didn't I go see Green Lantern?" I spent an uncomfortable 10-20 minutes wondering if I'd misjudged Breillat, or whether I'd just picked out the most self-indulgent of all her movies by random chance (and there are few things more masturbatory than directors making flicks about directing). But little by little, I was drawn into the story, which was a lot more complex and interesting than it had any right to be. By what felt like the 40 minute mark I realized that I was actually almost finished and that I'd been entirely consumed by the story.
While Sex is Comedy certainly didn't change my opinions on movies about directors being directors (or writers being writers for that matter, ugh) it did raise my already high opinion of Breillat. She turned an unbelievably hacky and overused premise into a fascinating piece. Oh and it certainly helped that rather than being about moving making as a whole, Sex is Comedy was more about trying to film a sex scene. And, I suppose here is as good a place as any to warn you that yes, it's in French so the usual reading caveats stand (yes, Dracula has driven me back into the arms of foreign films).
To break briefly from my sycophantic praise of Breillat (on a related note, d'you think there is a cult devoted to her? It's not for me, it's for a friend), lets talk about the cast. I can't think of many actors that have really captured a moment of (seemingly) genuine inspiration. Sex is Comedy had two. Anne Parillaud (as Jeanne the director) and Bart Binnema (as the Director of Photography). Both had these intense moments of brightness crossing their faces. You could see the wheels turning and the ideas welling up behind their eyes. Even if the flick had nothing else going for it, it would have been worth watching to see those moments (fortunately, for my attention span, there was more). The weird and wonderfully acted sexual tension between Parillaud, Gregoire Colin (the Actor) and Ashley Wanninger (Leo, the First Assistant) was also impressive. There were all these wonderful little moments where something romantic could have easily happened, but then they were all pulled back to making the movie. The relationship between Collin and Parillaud was particularly good, and walked the creepy line between being paternal and sexual. Collin's pouting seemed to waffle back and forth between an ignored lover and a chastised kid. It was very effective and unsettling. Roxane Mesquida (as the Actress) reprises some of the role of Elena from A Ma Soueur! (AKA: Fat Girl), except playing the actress playing Elena (which she was, meta anyone?). Making A Ma Soueur! was the inspiration for Sex is Comedy and if I ever did any research ahead of time, I'd probably have watched it first (but don't be surprised if you see it in upcoming weeks).
What particularly surprised me about the movie was that there were some very funny scenes. A deep reflection of the director's craft doesn't usually lend itself to much more than self-deprecating humour. You know the kind, the: "Oh even though I'm spending simply boatloads of money and time making a movie about me, I'm very modest. Aren't I funny and strange, ha-ha?" type of jokes. Nope, Sex is Comedy did quite a bit more than that. There are some ridiculous moments of fooling around with a fake penis, some played entirely straight. And a few hilarious scenes where extras refuse to disrobe and Mesquida's stage mom follows her around with a blanket to cover her up.
My one major complaint about Sex is Comedy is the pacing. While, for the most part, we move along at a good clip and scenes don't overstay their welcome, even Breillat can't seem to stay away from too much directorial navel gazing (well, navel if we're lucky, given the self-gratifying these type of movies usually swing towards). The few times my interest began to flag were during the sequences where Jeanne talks about how important it is for her to get this that or the other thing out of a scene. I get the need to have a scene or two like this, if she's not invested in the movie, it won't really matter to her if it fails. But we get caught in at least five over-long conversations that aren't really necessary and that are far less interesting than the rest of the story. Given the excellent pacing of the rest of the movie, these sequences were jarring and yawn-worth
Well, my sweetmeats, I'm afraid you're going to have to get used to seeing Breillat's name around these parts. Of the directors I've discovered while rummaging around for interesting things to review, she is easily my favourite. While overall, I'd say I enjoyed Bluebeard more (Sex is Comedy was endeavouring to look more realistic and so it lacked the heavily saturated colours and beautiful imagery I liked so well in Bluebeard) this was a strong, funny movie. It managed to keep me interested in a topic I find completely tiresome and left me hungry for more of Breillat's work. If you haven't checked her out already, to the surprise of no-one, I'm going to suggest that you do.
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