Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A nation of sexpots

I see quite a few of the many French films released in France each week and I’m always curious to see which of these get released in Australia.

Since living in Paris I’ve become addicted to those French films about sentimental relationships in Paris, which generally involve infidelity (apparently in a pre-STD age), as well as people with low-paying jobs living in elephantine apartments in the beaux quartiers, and usually one character who works as a restorer of some kind (for example of old art works or furniture), or if we want to take the point a little further, as a restorer of lives (psychiatrist, counsellor etc). Several characters lives intercross and tie themselves in knots; it is like a big game of twister. There are many such films released each year but I hardly ever saw them at the cinema in Sydney.

I especially like going to see films with Emmanuelle Devos because even if she often plays a similar character it is only similar in the sense that it is always a quirky character, and because she has an engaging mouth just begging for some big ears to listen to her. I also like films with Isabelle Carré because she either plays an off balanced character or has to balance someone else's offness.

But from what my father tells me of the French films showing in Sydney now, one thing seems clear: forget Emmanuelle and Isabelle, if a film has Audrey Tautou in it, it will be released in Australia. Or if it features Daniel Auteuil - who fits easily into the short, big nosed French guy box (with a small breathing hole for his nose to poke out).

I guess I didn't watch enough French films on television back in Sydney because it seems that besides the obvious sixties icons and Audrey and Daniel, before I moved to Paris, a lot of contemporary French actresses and actors, talented or not, didn't exist for me. They were completely concealed in the mellow shadows of Sacré Coeur. But now I see Sylvie Testud outside chez Coquelicot, nibbling on rancid pain raisin, letting sultanas fall to the ground like rat droppings. There is Gérard Darmon sporting his Costa Smeralda tan and miniscule violet sunglasses on the rue Lepic, pretending he doesn't love me. And then an unverified Jean Dujardin (it might have been another French actor I always get him muddled with, or perhaps the guy from the post office) on my street, smiling at me from the safety of his vespa.

As well as good, clean fun with Audrey Tautou and Daniel Auteuil, the other types of French films that primarily seem to get released in Australia are the kinds of films that bolster the idea of France as a sexy nation, especially the idea that French women are unbridled sexpots, putting out at the nod of a head. This is kind of a funny notion when you actually live in Paris and you see that here it is “anglo saxon” women (sexpats) who have this reputation, well at least a reputation that they get drunk a lot and drop their pants regularly as a corollary of that.

I remember a French film that I must have seen about eight years ago in Sydney which certainly bolstered this notion of the French sexpot, although I can’t remember the title at the moment and quite frankly i've already spent enough time fossicking around the AlloCine website in the last half hour so you'll just have to trust me on this one. In this film an older, sexy woman (I can’t even remember who the actress was) had a very passionate relationship with a much younger man. But the most memorable moment in the film was when, for whatever reason he broke up with her, and in a fit of vengeance she came round to his house basically to fait caca on his doormat before squelching into the night. The Sydney audience was in raptures: oh la la, the French sure know about dirty sex.

I imagine Haneke’s La Pianiste got the thumbs up for release in Australia too for its overt representation of French female sexuality, and I’m predicting the film I saw yesterday, Anna M, will also be out there, as Isabelle Carré regularly has her hands down her pants.

Of course I think it is great that female sexuality is portrayed in French films, and as I’ve said in an earlier post, especially the sexuality of older women. I just think it’s a shame that too often in these films the female character has to be frayed with madness, as was the case in Anna M, (incidentally Isabelle Carré plays a restorer of old books in this film), Betty Blue ("37°2 degrees le matin" is the French title) and La Pianiste.
Her unrestrained sexuality becomes disorder, rather than valid expression.