Synopsis: Solange is the female version of a womanizing film director who is confident about her conquests and her ability to figure out men. Along comes Bruno, a man she can t stand. Solange’s faith is put to a test. In spite of her better judgment, she is undeniably attracted to Bruno and sleeps with him over and over again, against her better judgement. From the director of Fat Girl and Romance X, comes yet another confrontational tale of sexual conquest.
Tapage nocturne 7.0
eyelights: the exploration of our protagonist’s psyche.
eyesores: the protagonist’s ambiguity and lack of direction.
“I always knew that I could like many men.”
‘Tapage nocturne’ is a 1979 film by Catherine Breillat that explores a young film director’s love affairs and her quest for passion outside the context of a relationship. It was her first film since ‘Une vraie jeune fille‘ and the first one to be distributed (as the former was banned until 1999).
What is interesting is that Solange and her friends are all married but are all in open relationships. In fact, unless I misunderstood something, she doesn’t even live with her husband, with whom she still has relations – and who understands that she desires any number of other men and will act on her whims.
But while Solange has sex with many men, she is mostly obsessed with the raw passion that unfolds in these early encounters. She’s just not looking for relationships or even sex, per se: she fixates on her desire and the need to be desired. No more. She spends her time on the phone or by the phone.
Naturally, she isn’t entirely fulfilled. For all the affairs, she can’t seem to find something lasting; everything eventually fades. And thus she moves on to another lover, one who can spark and hopefully sustain her passion. She hardly sleeps, she is overwhelmed, but she can’t stop herself. She doesn’t understand it, or herself.
‘Tapage nocturne’ is a observation of complex character dynamics: Solange with her husband, Solange with her lovers, Solange with her friends, and Solange with herself. No relationship is clear cut, and not all of it is easy to define – in fact, given how uncertain she is herself, we are left with few answers.
But it’s nonetheless fascinating
As per usual, Breillat uses her cinema to explore women’s sexuality outside the confines of social norms. She never takes the easy route, giving us atypical perspectives and characters who defy expectations. It’s no wonder that her films are a constant source of fodder for critics and her audiences.
The one thing I found out of the ordinary about this particular film is that it feels as though Breillat is using the picture as a vehicle to think out loud, to express her notions, concerns, on screen. For all intents and purposes, Solange is her doppelgänger, speaking her words for her.
I know nothing of her personal life but, having seen many of her motion pictures now, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to discover that she has had such complicated interpersonal relationship herself. It seems like an intellectual thing to do, but she comes from an era with a strong female emancipation movement.
‘Tapage nocturne’ is very dialogue-based, and whereas ‘Anatomie de l’enfer‘ was a series of monologues, this one sounds more like self-reflections; Solange is in constant dialogues with various people, discussing her affairs with them and her relationships with men in general. It’s stimulating stuff.
At one point she states to a man that she just picked up that she couldn’t go home with him because she’s interested in his intellect and that she will need time to warm up to him, to get to know him. That’s why she sleeps with dumb men, she says, because she can just love them for their beauty.
Wow. Pretty bold. Both because of the character’s unapologetic attitude and for saying what frequently remains unspoken: intellect can get in the way of passion.
She also goes on to tell her friend that when she’s monogamous, men don’t want to sleep with her, but when she takes on many lovers, the only thing men want to do is to be with her. I don’t know how true that might be in real life, but I’d certainly love to explore that notion. Could monogamy be the death of passion for some?
It’s quite clear that mystery and unavailability is a stimulant for many. There’s a reason why long-term couples frequently see their sexual attraction to each other drop: familiarity strips away from these two components and can hinder desire in the process. It’s sad but all too common.
I found it quite fascinating to see that, while Solange sought passion, she tended to be passive in her dalliances, letting the men take the lead while she subjected herself to their touches. She egged them on from time to time, but otherwise she wasn’t taking charge in any way shape or form.
A key difference between this picture and many of Breillat’s other films is that some of the sex was slightly charged. Breillat frequently strips any steaminess from her films, showing us couplings in a dispassionate way, in a nearly clinical way. Her films aren’t actually about sex itself.
And I like that. I really do. In North America, sex sells, so sex is packaged in as palatable a way as possible to entice and attract the masses. Breillat refuses to do that and focuses her attention on exploring the psychology of her female characters, of the roots of their sexual expression.
The thing that I find unfortunate about “Tapage nocturne’ is that it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s goes deep into Solange’s angst and conflicted feelings, but it doesn’t offer her growth in the process. At the end, she seems to be at the very same place as she was in the beginning.
Perhaps that was the point (after all, not everything wraps up neatly with a bow on top), but I found the picture repetitive. After an hour of Solange’s on and off again affairs, I would have liked to see something else happen. Of course, maybe that was also the point: Solange was lost and doomed to repeat herself.
Still, having said this, I enjoyed ‘Tapage nocturne’. Granted, it lost its appeal as it wore on, but it’s an excellent second film by a director who challenges her audiences and would continue to through the years – and get craftier at it. It’s certainly a picture worth seeing and discussing.
After all, the complexity of female sexual expression is rarely talked about in our culture. Even to this day.
Date of viewing: August 29, 2014