Sex Is Comedy
2002Director: Catherine Breillat
Cast: Anne Parillaud, Gregoire Colin, Roxanne Mesquida
atherine Breillat is, so to speak, the cinematic equivalent of Polly Jean Harvey crossed with Marshall Mathers. That is to say, she’s a professional provocateur, constantly straddling the thin line between perceptive observer and complicit participant. Her work is undeniably prurient, if not borderline pornographic, in nature. If the rabid prudes who’ve bitched and moaned about Britney Spears and Larry Clark saw some of her films, they’d demand nothing less than her head on a platter.
"Clever-- by the time she notices what I'm doing, she'll be entirely naked..."
At the same time, however, there’s no one else in movies today investigating matters of sex and gender so frankly or with such committed zeal. Breillat’s extremely controversial Fat Girl shocked audiences not just with its extended scenes of underage sex played with such unsettling naturalism that you’d swear you were watching something other than mere acting, but with a virtually out-of-nowhere conclusion that serves as a (quite literal) blow to the skull. After Fat Girl, I strongly suspected that Breillat¾far more so than most filmmakers, good, bad, or otherwise¾knows exactly what she wants out of every frame, every edit, every line or action delivered by her actors. She’s able to simultaneously elicit a deep visceral reaction from her audience and force them to give real thought to troubling subjects they might naturally shy away from under more reasonable circumstances.
Sex Is Comedy, Breillat’s follow-up to Fat Girl, confirms my suspicion. The film is a dramatized, more-or-less reenactment of the filming of the earlier movie, somewhat in the spirit of films like Truffaut’s Day for the Night and Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees. I say “more-or-less” because, among other reasons, the titular plump 12 year-old is nowhere in sight. In fact, the only actor returning from the original film is Roxanne Mesquida, who played the precocious older sister to Anais Reboux’s wise-beyond-her-years “fat girl.” Here she plays (a version of) herself playing her Fat Girl role, and referred to in the film simply as “The Actress,” while Claire Denis regular Gregoire Colin replaces Libero De Rienzo as “The Actor” playing the part of Mesquida’s character’s older seducer. Meanwhile, Anne Parillaud stands in for Breillat herself as Jeanne, the film-within-the-film’s director. (I know¾it’s all so very “meta.”) Parillaud is lovely, slyly enigmatic, and perfectly cast, giving one of the year’s most memorable performances.
One of the deleted scenes from Wild Things...
Jeanne clashes persistently, on and off the set, with Colin’s Actor on problems ranging from his failure to join the rest of the crew at hotel dinners to his supposed inability to get it up on his own for the big sex scene key to both Sex Is Comedy and Jeanne’s film. (The resolution to the latter dispute involves what has to be the most prominent¾and funniest¾use of a prosthetic penis in movie history.) The rocky rapport Jeanne and her Actor progressively develop is central to what Breillat’s up to here. Specifically, this is a revealing look at the singular dynamic established between a director and her actors, an ambiguously dichotomous relationship, at once both trusting and manipulative. Breillat’s broader analysis, however, is¾as with pretty much all of her work¾of the endlessly complex nature of male-female interaction. While battle-of-the-sexes scenarios are, at this late point, among the most potentially tired and trite in film, there’s still no subject more inexhaustible when serious questions are being asked, and no one right now is probing deeper than Breillat. Umm, no pun intended…
By: Josh Timmermann
Published on: 2004-12-01