Synopsis: Faking it has never been like this.
Anne Parillaud (La Femme Nikita) is fiery, sultry and explosively funny as a movie director who’ll do anything to get her shot.
For director Jeanne (Parillaud), sex is no laughing matter. She’s not amused that her two leading actors can’t stand each other as she’s about to shoot the most important moment in her film…the sex scene. The actress objects to nudity, the actor won’t take off his socks, and the only thing heating up between them is their temper. At her wits’ end. Jeanne tries everything in her power to seduce, intimidate and sweet-talk her reluctant young lovers into performing the films sexy final scene!
Sex is Comedy 8.25
eyelights: Anne Parillaud. its insider look at the filmmaking process.
eyesores: the limited value of the picture without its counterpart.
“Sex is Comedy’ is Catherine Breillat’s counterpart film to ‘À ma soeur‘. It’s an insider’s journal of the filmmaking process, showing us what happens on a set, how a director works with her crew and cast to get her vision on screen. It’s like a “making of” documentary, but staged, with actors.
In this case it’s obviously Breillat’s interpretation of her experiences: ‘Sex is Comedy’ focuses on the first love scene in ‘À ma soeur’, even going so far as to recreate it with the same actress, and using some of the same dialogues. It’s at once familiar, but it also goes deeper, showing us the scenes behind the scene of this film within a film (which is called ‘Scènes intimes’ here).
Breillat is incarnated by the fabulous Anne Parillaud, who impersonates her well enough that even some of her mannerisms (such as hiding her face while shooting) are used here. I don’t know Breillat enough to know what else Parillaud lifted from life, but I’m sure there plenty more where that came from.
She makes Breillat seem lighter, less intense than in real life; her character, Jeanne, has plenty of intellectual and/or heavily focused moments, but Parillaud somehow manages to give her a joie de vivre vibe that sometimes eludes Breillat – and this coming from the actress who incarnated the dour Nikita.
Parillaud is absolutely brilliant here, in what is really a tour de force moment. She covers a large swath of her emotional palette in her interactions with all the characters on this set and does it seemingly effortlessly. I can only imagine, after seeing the troubles that these fictitious actors cause, that Breillat must have been quite pleased with her.
Because, as recounted here, Breillat makes it sound as though Roxane Mesquida and Libero De Rienzo weren’t easy to work with one bit. De Rienzo, in particular, comes off as an egotist who needs constant attention and who can be inconsistent in his work habits. But Mesquida doesn’t come out of this unscathed either: she is shown as vacuous and perhaps even unskilled.
But the worst of it is that the two actors can’t seem to stand each other. Time and time again, Jeanne has to try to work one of the two actors into the right mood or talk them into doing what is expected of them, despite their aversion or contempt for each other. It’s a challenge, and it doesn’t always turn out right, leaving Jeanne cursing them to her A.D., Leo.
Leo is fantastic. Ashley Wanniger reminded me of Peter Sarsgaard in his ability to be serious and light at the same time, fluctuating at will, depending on the moment. Even when he stood in silence, in the background, he could be felt. He was the perfect on-set partner for Jeanne, as her voice and collaborator. I’d love to know who he represents in real life.
In her interactions with the cast and crew, Jeanne reveals Breillat’s thoughts about the filmmaking process in such a candid way that it must be uncomfortable for those who have worked with her: she sometimes speaks her mind so openly that it would be impossible for some of them to come out of it unshaken – she can be critical and is unafraid of expounding on her frustrations.
She also ruminates at length about her various filmmaker’s philosophies, giving us hints as to how she views the roles of the people involved, as well as the impact that certain techniques and approaches might have. Anyone who’s seen her interviews will recognize a similarly pedantic language, which flies by faster than the brain will sometimes have time to understand.
There were some truly excellent moments in ‘Sex is Comedy’:
– the outdoor filmmaking sequence, which shows the struggles of having to contend with weather conditions, and how Jeanne is relieved to be back in a studio after all of that.
– trying to get the actors to kiss naturally, if not passionately, despite their aversion for each other. It’s almost comical to watch, because the kissing is so horrible. At one point, Jeanne akins the actress to a cadaver. And rightly so.
– the moment when she works out the love scene with her A.D. It was amazing to watch the collaboration here, how she would play the male and he the female, how receptive he was to her directions, how she got lost in the process.
– the playful aspect of the penis prosthesis that the actor has to wear for the love scene – something that is pulled straight from the making of ‘À ma soeur’. It was fun to see everyone’s reactions and the on-set politics behind that.
– the way that Jeanne gets the actress to tap into her emotions for the love scene, by having her scream out loud multiple times. And then how she came to her for an embrace after the scene, allowing her some time for release.
What’s amazing is how the film mostly focuses on the making of one scene, taking longer than the scene actually took in ‘À ma soeur’, and yet it’s engrossing the whole way though. Of course, this may be because I’ve seen ‘À ma soeur’ just the other day; the first time I watched ‘Sex is Comedy’, it had been a while since I’d seen its companion piece.
Would ‘Sex is Comedy’ hold up on its own? It’s a fascinating look a filmmaking no matter what, and anyone who’s interested in the process would find it fascinating, but it certainly has a lot more poignancy if one can relate it to the real events. It would be like watching a historical drama but not understand its context – it can still be a good film, but it would be an emptier experience.
But, as a fan of cinema, a fan of ‘À ma soeur’, and a fan of Catherine Breillat, I totally adored this film and feel it’s even more accomplished than its predecessor. While the other had Anaïs and a more complex structure, this one gives insight into a real moment and real people. It’s fiction, and yet it’s not. And it was made by the very filmmaker who was there, giving us a rare perspective in and on cinema.
Date of viewing: July 27, 2013