"Claudine Beccarie opens her heart as beautifully as she opens her legs"
EXHIBITION may not have been the first porn (star) documentary to hit theaters. That distinction probably belongs to the ill-fated Mitchell Brothers with INSIDE MARILYN CHAMBERS. Presumably, Jean-François Davy's motivation was a bit more noble than theirs as he really tried to present his subject as a fully rounded human being who just happened to be working in the sex industry. The result was a huge commercial hit in France where it played regular cinemas packed to capacity, before the 1976 "X"-law relegated it to more specialized venues until 1983 when Minister of Culture Jack Lang removed the X-rating which enabled Davy to re-release the film with added footage, again with great success.
Unlike his simultaneously shot LES PORNOCRATES, which took a more general view of the French f*ck film industry circa 1975, EXHIBITION is entirely constructed around actress Claudine Beccarie, the first French hardcore superstar who paved the way for the likes of Brigitte Lahaie and Marilyn Jess. Though she didn't appear in that many good ones (the Italian CALDE LABBRA was one of her more interesting vehicles and I rather enjoyed Claude Pierson's good-natured FEMMES IMPUDIQUES which teamed her with good friend Ellen Earl, also prominently displayed in EXHIBITION), which may account for her somewhat diminished fandom status nowadays, she certainly deserves to be remembered for breaking down the barriers.
The film consists of three sections that are continuously inter-cut throughout. Davy interviews Claudine on her life and experiences, both inside the sex industry and those that led her into it. He visits her apartment, meets her mother (with a great confrontation concerning the latter's absence while her daughter was in juvenile detention hall for four years) and boyfriend (fellow sex performer Didier Faya, ten years her junior), questions her colleagues, etc. There's a set report from Paul Vecchiali's CHANGE PAS DE MAIN, one of the first French art-house movies to incorporate hardcore footage, produced by Davy and where he met Beccarie for the first time. Finally, there is a whole lot of sex shot specifically for this movie that has the star interacting with several of her contemporary colleagues like Ellen Earl, Béatrice Harnois (Max Pécas' FELICIA), Frédérique Barral and Benoît Archenoul. These sequences serve as considerably more than purely "commercial content" as they alternately demonstrate boredom, annoyance (as in her exasperating encounter with young Marc whom she berates for his lack of sexual savoir-faire and subsequent failure to perform) and a genuine intimacy and camaraderie like in the group scene near the end that has Claudine evolving from "director" guiding the others from the sidelines to active participant. The star's lengthy and much-discussed masturbation routine ranks as one of the best of its kind, right up there with Susannah French in THE OTHER SIDE OF JULIE or Ginger Lynn in WHITE LIGHTNING. People who think the sex in this movie is not erotic (nor even intended to be) are definitely in for a (pleasant) surprise as far as these last two scenes are concerned.
Davy was a "real" filmmaker who had made several popular soft porn comedies (BANANES MECANIQUES, PRENEZ LA QUEUE COMME TOUT LE MONDE, Q) by the time he "took the plunge" with what was proudly labeled as France's first hardcore film (it wasn't) and his muddled motives for doing so are examined in depth in the DVD's superlative extras. While attracted to the subject matter to which he would return many times his middle class background prevented him from admitting to that. Practically, this meant that there always had to be some kind of "cultural alibi" for the flesh he so eagerly wished to display. Seeing the director both in his younger incarnation in TV show segments from 25-30 years ago and as the older and wiser man he is today allows for conflicting and contrasting comments to rival Claudine's almost puritanical (yet therefore not necessarily hypocritical, which you'll understand once you've seen the film) denunciation of porn and orgies while participating enthusiastically in both.
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