In this darkly erotic drama from cult filmmaker Jeanne Labrune, Isabelle Huppert stars as a high-class prostitute named Alice who serves up sexual fantasies for her clientele, from schoolgirl innocence to S&M. Fed up with the seamy underbelly of French masculinity, Alice crosses paths with Xavier, a neurotic psychoanalyst facing a marriage crisis. The two quickly realize their professions share a thing or two in common as they navigate the overlapping worlds of psychotherapy and sex therapy.
Sans queue ni tête 7.75
eyelights: Isabelle Huppert. the parallels it makes between it protagonists’ lives.
eyesores: the sketchy finale.
‘Sans queue ni tête’ is a 2010 motion picture by Jeanne Labrune exploring the duality between a prostitute and a psychiatrist, played by Isabelle Huppert and Bouli Lanners, whose lives eventually mingle as they both seek solutions to the personal problems that they face. Its North American tagline is “When neurotic becomes erotic…” and it was marketed as a comedy.
But it’s not a comedy.
And it’s not erotic either.
Both Alice and Xavier are at crossroads in their lives: Alice feels trapped after decades being a prostitute, and Xavier is watching is marriage disintegrate. It’s no laughing matter. And while much of the picture is set in the illegal sex trade, there’s really nothing titillating about it since it’s treated with such detachment that it’s like watching someone doing chores.
Which is what it amounts to for Alice, and while she plays a number of different roles for her clients (including a little girl, a sub, a ’50s housewife, …etc.), the moment that her clients get off, she switches off. It’s all business, and one gets the impression that the only reason she’s been successful for so long is because her clients project upon her their fantasies.
The same goes for Xavier’s work, which finds him checking out when his clients talk to him: His silence, which is a product of his inattentiveness, is frequently misinterpreted as purposeful – so his clients find their own answers to their questions, thinking he’s leading them. It’s part of the reason why his marriage is dissolving: his spouse is losing respect for him.
What makes the film interesting are the parallels that it makes between the two professions, from our protagonists’ brand of professionalism to the way they interact with their friends, the lifestyles they lead, …etc. In some ways it intimates that psychiatrists prostitute themselves as much as sex workers do, and, in turn, sex workers are as legitimate and professional.
But the picture takes an obvious turn when Alice crosses paths with one of Xavier’s psychiatrist friends as the two men are buying supplies for their office, Xavier asks about her, wondering why he’s never met her before – thinking she’s a peer. But his friend corrects him and,when Xavier separates from his wife, he decides to call on Alice for a little distraction.
Thankfully, it doesn’t go down the Hollywood route, turning into a romance, nor does it create a solid bond between the two. In fact, it’s more of an awkward combination, first when he tries to reach her and she’s always too busy to take his calls, and then when they finally negotiate an agreement and he feels too much respect for her to go ahead with any part of it.
And that’s when the picture falls apart: Out of nowhere they are on friendly terms, even though there was no apparent defrosting of their relationship. And then, as soon as they befriend each other, they never see each other again. From there, he goes to rekindle his relationship with his spouse and she goes off to find a psychiatrist that can help her transition.
Ending with Alice sitting there, gazing out at nothingness, smiling.
It was just such an easy and precipitated ending that it felt completely false: No reasons were given to explain how or why any of this transpired. What changed in Xavier that made his spouse want him back, as though nothing had happened? How easy was it for Alice to get a regular job, given her many years out of the regular workforce and the lower wages? None of this is clear.
And this is why ‘Sans queue ni tête’ never fully succeeds. As a dichotomy it works a bit better, but the moment that the film tries to expand beyond its central conceit, it falls apart; it would have required more time to explore its characters and their psyches. Instead, it takes shortcuts, as though Labrune couldn’t be bothered or because she felt she’d lose the audience.
But any audience interested in comparing these characters would also want to go on their journeys with them.
Depriving them of this was an unfortunate decision.
Date of viewing: June 10, 2016