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Whatever (I saw 'Extension du domaine de la lutte' with English subtitles) is a prototypical modern French film: explicit sex as narrative device, not goal; philosophy; voiceover (there are TWO throughout, a narrator and the principle character); and stylish shooting & editing as standard (oh yes, and 80's style songs at the 'discotheques'). It can be depressing. Keeping closely to the book (Houellebecq collaborated on the screenplay) the principle - unnamed, simply 'Our Hero' - recalls the unfettered optimism of the student uprisings of 1968, in which he took part. The free love (sexual openness) ethic that this midwived is something he equates with the irrepressible expansion of the free market; it affects everyone and creates an increasingly impoverished underclass, to which he admits membership. His friend Tisserand distills this nicely when he announces that he's worked out how much whoring he can afford, since he can't get a girlfriend. Ah, girlfriends... driving the effectiveness of the narrative the film, like the book, has a powerful, but skillfully hidden love story as the hero realises his patchy memories are of a life of love. The Hero isn't a pasty misanthrope after all but just like you or me. With a fag-dyed right hand.
If you've enjoyed watching the BBC TV series 'The Office', you will be immediately at ease with the cringmaking observations of Whatever. The film has a great deal of humour in fact, but always anchored with the gravitational pull of the Hero's deadpan presence and analysis. See it (7/10) and then get happy by renting Daniel Auteil doing a similar thing in The Closet.
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