As I’ve said in other reviews, the French sure love their sex and death. What makes DESIRE a bit different is that much of the death here is either textual or completely secondary (one character struggles with her ‘death’ of a sexual urge, while another character’s questionable actions appear driven by the death of her father) while the sex takes center stage throughout much of the action in the shape of either boy-on-girl or girl-on-girl as these disillusioned French youth spend their days wandering from one sexual encounter to the next.
After the passing of her father, Cecile (played by the lovely Deborah Revy) plunges herself heartily into the volatile emotions of her friends. While she searches high and low to find some relief from her daily existence, the only comfort she seems to find is in moments of sexual desire, whether played out with her sometime boyfriend, a young female counterpart she feels mysteriously drawn to, or even a casual stranger. Her world fully revolves around these various flirtations and how she finds intimacy through the most unique of her emotions.
As much as DESIRE tries to be about sexual exploration (not exploitation), it’s essentially more of a story about personal discovery. Sure, there happens to be plenty of sex or sexual encounters – PLENTY of it – but, at its core, Cecile’s journey is about uncovering who she’s meant to be in her life now that her family – her father – has passed away. With her doe eyes and her winning good looks, she rushes headlong into what’s most obviously available to her, and that’s sex. Sex with a man. Sex with a woman. Sex with a friend. Sex with a stranger. Regardless of the partner, she finds it all pushing her back toward uncovering how we define ourselves with the most intimate of expressions. What she learns from the partner is precisely what that person is wanting or missing from their lives – a philandering husband who can’t satisfy his sexually frustrated wife; a philandering boyfriend who can’t get his girlfriend to love him; a girl who can only be satisfied by another girl; etc. As much as these various sexual encounters strive to have greater meaning in the story, they don’t. What they tell Cecile (and, consequently, the audience) is how to define the problem in that person’s life. The sex – or how the person wants/needs to experience it – is hardly the solution; instead, it’s only one step in uncovering the ‘desire’ that the person needs satisfied.
Sure, it’s all a bit highbrow, and, under Laurent Bouhnik’s direction (and writing), it perhaps all sounds a bit more important than it genuinely is. Certainly, the people depicted in the film are suffered from some malady that affects their happiness, but peering past the sex – as even Cecile’s boyfriend does in the film’s conclusion – better defines the personal problem … be it a jaded experience, be it a passing fancy, or be it the loss of a loved one. Somehow, each of these characters seeks to fill some chasm in their personal lives; sex is but a symptom (and a solution) for a much larger problem. The young men – portrayed here as essentially unemployed and somewhat directionless – are driven to “feel” something, to “feel” anything, even if that means taking the law into their own hands and vandalizing a private business owing them payment for their remodeling services so that they can be chased through the streets with men toting steel pipes. They’re driven to these experiences by something underneath, not something so simple or archaic as earning a buck. As we see in the climax, only genuine love transcends whatever afflicts the heart, and that’s what truly needs to fill the gap.
Still, it’s very solidly put together. The film is punctuated with several vignettes of fully naked women who are gathered in a community shower. They’re going about their business of cleaning and preparing for whatever the day’s activities may be, but, in the meantime, they’re chatting with one another. About live. About love. About sex. About challenges. About men. All the while, Bouhnik photographs them from the neck down, showing the audience their most private parts while we’re listening to their most private struggles. It’s a brilliant device that, surprisingly, has a narrative pay-off in the film’s last quarter; and several arguments could be made as to what the director’s true intent was with the device. Me? I think – as I said at the beginning – it’s all about personal discovery: only by ‘baring it all’ can one truly find what’s beneath.
DESIRE (also billed as “Q” internationally) was produced by Acajou Films, Rebel Rebel, and Birka Holding. US DVD distribution is being handled by Strand Releasing. The motion picture was an Official Selection of the Raindance Film Festival. It looks and sounds terrific, in French with English subtitles. The disc had no special features, and I would’ve appreciated hearing from the director/writer in a commentary track, but it wasn’t meant to be.
RECOMMENDED. This is an arts film – not pornography – but it approaches sex as a very adult theme. Not for the kids, folks. Much like desire is but a single emotion, the film DESIRE is but a snapshot at the candid lives of these disillusioned French youth. It may not be accurate – it’s certainly far from complete – but it works hard to capture a specific time, a specific place, and the specific feeling that goes hand-in-hand with life’s fleeting moments. It ain’t perfect … but few snapshots are.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Strand Releasing provided me with a DVD screener copy of DESIRE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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