Synopsis: In this explicit and controversial film by Bertrand Bonello, Jacques, a popular pornographer in the 1970s, returns to the industry where he made his reputation. He comes to the shattering realization that the world of “erotica” has changed dramatically and he is no longer able to capture the love and passion on-screen as he had in the past. These changes act as a catalyst peace with the direction it has taken.
Le Pornographe 7.0
eyelights: its perspective on its subject.
eyesores: its dreariness.
“In my films, you’ll always find moments of beauty, even if the rest is utterly ugly.”
Working in porn has got to be the worst deal ever: if you’re even lucky enough to make good money at it, and few really do, your longevity is incredibly limited; there will always newer, fresher, more exciting meat to be consumed. There are exceptions but, after a few years (if that), you’re done.
So what is one to do once the dust’s settled? What kind of work can you land afterward, when your resume makes you a pariah? And what kind of retirement could you afford after just a few years? Often, despite ambitions and intentions, performers and filmmakers return to the industry for another go.
In ‘Le Pornographe’, director Bertrand Bonello’s 2001 award-winning motion picture, we find former porn director Jacques Laurent returning behind the camera for the first time in a decade and a half when his financial situation becomes too dire. With his reputation, he quickly finds a new gig.
Unfortunately for him, the industry has changed since 1984: all of his artistic aspirations and his old school directing are dismissed by his producer, who soon takes over because he doesn’t have faith in Laurent. Soon, Laurent spirals into an existential crisis that affects his personal life.
Yeah, ‘Le Pornographe’ isn’t the sexy film you’d have imagined.
In fact, it’s pretty grim. Though Laurent has a moment or two of happiness when his son reconnects with him after many years, he decides to break up with his spouse and recluses himself on his friend Louis’ large property to build himself a home – even though he has no idea how to even get started.
Much of the picture consists of Laurent watching his life go by, quite literally, as he spends time reflecting upon various questions. There are plenty of dialogues as well, but they almost always revolve around his angst. So it’s difficult to feel sexy watching this aged, morose middle-aged man.
Ironically, since Laurent’s a porn filmmaker, we are privy to a couple of unsimulated sex scenes starring real porn stars. But it’s hardly stimulating given the context; in fact, one gets the impression that he purpose of the scenes is to show how unsexy making porn is, despite its intended end result.
The picture is interesting for its initial structure, in that it begins like a sort of “making of” documentary, with a voice-over backgrounder on Laurent before watching scenes from his film unfolding, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage. I was rather captivated by this look at the process.
Unfortunately, the picture loses its way when Laurent also does, and we begin to follow his son, Joseph – for no apparent reason. Though he’s politically active with his socialist friends, he decides to leave it all behind to propose to his girlfriend, Monika, and then go on a carefree road trip together.
And, really, who cares?
Joseph wasn’t nearly as interesting as Laurent was, despite the elder man being a total drag. While putting the two together did produce some intelligent dialogues, as they catch up, discuss their past, talk politics and the latest family news, separated, neither was an especially noteworthy subject.
The performances are all fine for the material, but at no point does ‘Le Pornographe’ ever really stir one’s emotions. I like that it doesn’t glamourize porn, but the ultimate outcome is truly bereft of hope and joy. It’s not a wasted experience, but very little would motivate me to watch it again.
I like contemplative cinema, but it always needs purpose.
Like Laurent, this movie seems aimless.
Date of viewing: June 17, 2017