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'Douches froides' ('Cold Showers') is a film by Antony Cordier that has
been marketed in a strange way: the projected audience was supposedly
the gay audience, but aside from brief frontal nudity in an innocuous
gym shower room there is nothing 'gay' about this movie. Instead COLD
SHOWERS is an examination of class, sport, experimentation, and
emotional borderlines that are at once fascinating and frustrating.
Mickael (Johan Libereau) is from a poor working class family - his father Gerard (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) is a boozer taxi cab driver who lost his license as a result of a DUI, and his mother Annie (Florence Thomassin) is a cleaning woman in the high school gym: they live on the edge of poverty. Not a great student, Mickael excels in judo and his life is focused on his sport and on his girlfriend Vanessa (Salome Stevenin). One of Mickael's teammates Clement (Pierre Perrier) is from a wealthy family: his father Louis Steiner (Aurelien Recoing) is confined to a wheelchair and his mother Mathilde (Claire Nebout) is a woman of the world and society. Louis decides to sponsor the judo team, buys them outfits, and asks Mickael to work with Clement to perfect his technique and prepare the judo team for a French championship.
Mickael and Clement relate well and while Mickael is a winning player, Clement is smarter and understands the intrinsic rules of the game better. An incident occurs that forces Mickael to take the position of a wounded mate and in doing so he must lose 8 kilos to qualify for the championship team. The struggle to lose weight (his body is already perfect) places stress on both Mickael and his family and teammates. Mickael and Vanessa include Clement in their camaraderie, a situation which evolves into a ménage a trois as the three have sex in the after hours gym. Vanessa reacts as though this is the greatest physical feeling ever, Clement is smitten, and Mickael has troubling doubts. When the three decide to try it again in a hotel room Mickael is so conflicted that he does not join the other two, only listening to their cavorting in the bathtub feeling inferior to the smarter, wealthier Clement. But on the judo side, the team wins the championship and Mickael's delicate sense of self worth is restored for a moment. It is the manner in which the trio of young adolescents resolves their antics that closes the film.
Though the actors are superb and very beautiful to see and hear, the character development is fuzzy and we are left with little understanding or insight as to the each of the key players. The judo action moments are beautifully choreographed and the intimacy scenes are done with taste and fine lighting but with little passion conveyed. Though we want to identify with Mickael and his methods of confronting his coming of age, there just isn't enough character motivation to make that transference entirely successful. This film feels like two movies: a judo team's antics and a class-crossed ménage a trois. Beautiful to watch, but the script could have been more carefully constructed.
This film deserves a chance to be seen. This teenage coming-of-age
story from France tells nicely against a backdrop of martial arts
(judo), competition, and sex. But it goes beyond to show some nice
subtleties where class, success, and desire play out against one
another to really give you a sense of what the main character is going
through. I was pulled in. And the story just seemed to work and be very
real and personal for me.
The director, who was present at this Toronto International Film Festival screening, mentioned the story started out as a school project -- something that garnered accolades beyond his expectations. It then grew into a judo documentary, before morphing again into a personal coming-of-age story with the director's personal story touches.
The result was excellent and succeeds on many accounts. I'd say it's worth checking out.
I don't comment usually, so my review's probably not going to be too
helpful, but I figure the comment list is currently empty, so...
I just saw this at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday (with English subtitles) and can say that this is a very good film with excellent performances from its young leads. Johan (I can't remember how to spell his last name, so I won't try) does an excellent job of portraying the depth and complexity of Mickael and the film rarely (if ever) seems overly dramatic. While some of the smaller roles, such as Mickael's family, seem like they could use a tad more rounding out, the story is ultimately made very emotionally engaging. The nudity is plentiful (for my American background, anyway) but most of these scenes earn their place in the film with their overwhelming effectiveness. I'd like to give it a 7.5, but IMDb won't allow decimals.
The movie is fresh, poignant and real. For a non-professional actor, Johan Libereau manages to touch you with his raw humanity. If he polishes on his acting skills, he will become a formidable actor. Salome is captivating with her open frankness. The other actors were quite realistic too, in their different ways. There are a lack of continuity with many scenes, creating the impression that somebody had cut out a big piece. One example, is when the Chinese boy(his arm was in a sling)walked up with the coach and the next thing, Michael is outside kicking a ball!? Some scenes could have been left out altogether, like the night swim which Michael had with Vanessa. My major pain was with the camera work. I cannot understand why a lot of the scenes had to be done in close ups. The most annoying was the group shower scenes where the boys were making fun of the Chinese boy. At one point, somebody's back covered the entire screen. I felt that 70% of the movie was done in close ups, causing you to miss a lot of the details, like with the judo scenes. A lot of the close ups were done exclusively to mask the frontal nudity. This shame is normal for American directors but with a Frenchman? Even the Parental Advisory sticker created the impression of disgust and abnormality which nudity is definitely not. I strongly recommend seeing this movie and if at the end you feel like strangling the cameraman, you are not alone! By the way, this movie is NOT a gay movie and the 3-way sex scene was too dark and lost in the close ups.
This movie is modern up to the bones: it's themes (solitude, adolescence, couple, discovering of the self), it's directing (cool, distant, objective and full of human truth), acting (the two main characters, but also the non-leading ones), the music (a sort of pop-psycho-rock, very deep and touching), all of this concures to give us a wonderful movie. It shows marvelously the evolution, but also the dissolution, of a young boy towards maturity. The relations between the self and the others, the discovering of the flesh, the torment and the solitude of the soul, all of this builds up towards the end, which is a cry of loneliness. But the life restarts, and we know that life is not a tragedy but eternal repetition: the hero gets back into reality, more human and stronger. This first movie is promising for the future of Antony Cordier. There is however a little critique to be made to the movie. It is too obvious sometimes: it is clear that the director wants to concentrate on the bodies, on the physical aspect of reality. There is a great pleasure in this, and every modern film-maker and film-lover knows it. The danger is not to fall into the extremes. The movie runs this risk, but it holds well overall. I'm already looking forward to seeing it again. The ending is brilliant, and the song on the back is tormenting!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mikael (Johan Libéreau) is the seventeen-year-old captain of a high
school judo team who, as the film opens, is encouraged to befriend
another team member, Clément (Pierre Perrier), whose wealthy father is
the team's sponsor. Once they start working together on the mats, they
and Mikael's now ripe childhood sweetheart Vanessa (Salomé Stévenin),
with whom he's already having sex, become a triangle.
Maybe it's generalized attraction or maybe it's envy that allows Mikael to share Vanessa with Clément in a secret orgy-à-trois right on the gym mat, we don't know. What is pretty clear is that Clément's family is rich and happy and Mikael's isn't particularly either. Mikael's dad (Jean-Philippe Écoffey) is a boozer whose drunk driving loses him his cab driver job, his angry mom (Florence Thévenin) does janitorial work at his school, and they live in a "banlieu" ghetto flat where mom has to cut off the electricity for two weeks because they can't pay the bill.
The "bac" high school general final exams are coming up and so is an important match for which Mikael must lose eight kilos in six weeks to qualify for a lower weight class. Mikael may outpace Clément in judo, but Clément has every other advantage, even to a better understanding of the strategy of the sport. Mikael feels dispossessed by comparison and this feeling is heightened when Vanessa and Clément again have sex this time without him, because he flees from a hotel room he's gone to with them: his class and his sex have endowed him with simpler notions of sexual roles. Only Vanessa of the three feels truly free to explore.
Cold Showers is Antony Cordier's first full-length film. It was well received in France, showcased in the new directors section at Cannes, and has US distribution. The physical frankness of the film may offend puritanical American sensibilities. In the Rendez-Vous Q & A Cordier said he's a fan of Larry Clark, and showed Clark's Ken Park to his young principals before shooting because he knew they would like it, and it would serve as a test: would they be able to go this far in their interpretations? Well, Ken Park has been shown in France, but remains barred from public screenings in the US. Douches froides is milder than Ken Park, but its nudity and sexuality are still quite bold, including sexual "democracy" of showing male bodies as freely as female, indeed more so, since the camera pursues the judo team into the showers to follow their horseplay and shows Clément and Mikael frontally nude after their sex marathon with Vanessa.
Vanessa thinks sex with both boys is the best. Mikael decides it was wrong and comes to regard this experimentation, whatever his motive for participating in it, as having been a mistake. After the hotel incident, from which he flees, he rejects Vanessa, who for her part never forgot that Mikael was the one she cares about.
Douches froides isn't meant to be prurient, just open. Cordier wants to show the physicality of athletes and adolescent sexuality and also to confront how tragic and extreme adolescent life is. Mikael is chosen as the film's main character not to represent the dysfunctions of youth but its normal problems, and the fact that he faces specific class issues which he cannot transcend simply by being high-functioning. (The filmmaker studied editing at a prestigious French arts school, but grew up in a provincial working class family.) The hero's new friend Clément is a golden boy because he comes from wealth and privilege. Both have parents who seem more adolescent than they do. It's the youths here who are facing some of life's most serious issues head-on, while the parents seem juvenile or evasive.
A weakness of the film is that despite its rich physicality, there isn't much depth of character portrayal. The depiction of Mikael in particular is marked by a certain opacity. Despite his voice-over we rarely see into him, and his goof-up on the bac geography test is so total it makes him look inappropriately like a dimwit. Nor does his relationship with Clément go beyond judo moves and a party at the rich Steiners' house where his dad disgraces himself. A plus is that the details of judo a major sport in France are very authentic. Otherwise, Cordier has chosen to classicize and generalize his milieu and his language. The location is made deliberately unspecific and the French is correct and without contemporary slang two ways in which Douches froides differs from Kechicne's recent prize-winning L'Esquive (Games of Love and Chance), which it resembles in taking youth seriously and attempting to show their relationship issues in depth.
(Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Today at Lincoln Center March 2006, Douches froides opened in Paris June 22, 2005. Picture This, a US company that focuses on gay and coming-of-age films, has bought the US rights.)
Other reviews have talked about how frank this film is, especially in terms of male frontal nudity. Well, those who've seen Grande Ecole with its frequently naked actors and expect something similar are in for a big disappointment. Other than a few seconds in the judo team locker room, the two leads' side by side shower lasts a grand total of 15 seconds. The female lead has comparably brief frontal moments. A lot of this film's marketing is geared to the gay male audience, but those expecting even a hint of homoeroticism between the two male leads (best friends who have a three-way with the girlfriend of one of them) will be most disappointed. There is not even the hint of either one's being interested in the other, or even scarcely aware that the other is part of the menage a trois. As a film, Douches Froides is curiously uninvolving; the viewer gets very little sense of who these three young people are, of how they are feeling, of why they behave as they do. About one hour of the original cut was deleted; perhaps this is why the finished film seems frustratingly undeveloped. Stick with Grande Ecole, a French film which more than delivers on its promises.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I enjoyed the film itself, though deeply disturbed by the turn of the
plot. The three of them falling into a Ménage à trois, seemed natural
enough at the time, and obviously the sex was extraordinary for all
three of them. But then Mickael goes psycho about it, and calls his
girlfriend a slut! She is more realistic and existential about the fact
that the sex was 1,000 times better than with just him alone. Mickael's
puritanical backlash was so disappointing. Vanessa cannot get Mickael
to admit that he enjoyed it.
I agree with some of the criticisms of the camera angles and film editing. It was not clear in the sex scene that Vanessa had sexual intercourse with Mickael as well as Clément, not until revealed later when Vanessa is discussing it with the school nurse. The scene is spontaneous, hot, and passionate - and leaves you wanting more!
But my disappointment is in the character of Mickael, and the outcome of the plot. It's a movie! It's just one plot of many possible. Well designed, well played - and when you find it disturbing, that is Art!
As many remarked, the film and situation are not "Gay" in the sense of homosexual attraction. But it is "Gay" in the sense of the Ménage à trois being a "Non-traditional relationship." Although this film is about Adolescents, the immaturity of Mickael can occur in most older people too. I have searched chat rooms for years, trying to find examples of people who have managed polyamorous relationships without jealousy or abuse. Even in fiction, it is usually treated as a transitory state with tragic endings. (See "Jules et Jim", "Cabaret") I still believe in the Possible!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I chose this movie because I was looking for a triangle friendship
between a girl & two boys. As I lived this situation and get lost in
it, I hope a similar story would inspire me.
My major concerns are: - Why (a) & How (b) the triangle forms ? - Why (c) & How (d) the triangle degenerates ?
(a) The movie offers a plain answer: "because it's better !".
(b) here, it's an open triangle: the three share things together. Mine was a closed one: every ones knows the others but never the three are together or speak about the missing one:
(c) The movie doesn't offer spoken explanations but rather prefer visual & emotional assumptions: the end comes with sensuality, sexuality coming up in the triangle, or more accurately, when for one member, deep feelings are tied with intimacy, and, as for the latter and the former, they can be divided. I agree with that.
(d) In the movie & in my story, silence is the proof that something isn't well.. And in a ironic and painful way, the tool for this sad times, is always the phone: I lived this dreadful planned phone-call: "Call me back: I wait you" and when time comes, the phone is silent . A variation is also shown, when the line is connected but one refuses to speak All those scenes were very very hard to see for me.
If the movie was a great help in that way, he got also a lot of flaws:
- I zapped on the boy's family problems
- why the shower scene on the DVD cover is cut on the movie?
- how Mickael gets finally into the hotel ?
- is Clément always seeing Salomé ? he says "no" but has her address; and who is the girl with him in the bar: his girlfriend ? how can she knows about the address ???
- what finally happens to Vanessa: the ring at the final shoot is a proof of engagement ??? with whom ?????
This is a movie about a teenage love triangle with two boys and a girl.
One of the boys is from a relatively wealthy family, while the other,
the main protagonist, is from a troubled family with an alcoholic
cabdriver father, who are so poor they have to periodically turn off
the power, which is why he has to take cold showers (although that may
not be why some members of the audience will have to take cold
showers). The plot of this movie sounds like a John Hughes flick, but
this is a FRENCH movie and has something John Hughes movies definitely
DON'T have, I think it's pronounced "menage a trois". If only the
characters in "Pretty Pink" (or more recently, the vampire, the
werewolf and Kristen Stewart in the "Twilight" saga) had thought of
this, we could have been spared a lot of needless teen angst.
Interestingly, the first menage a trois occurs BEFORE the love triangle emerges when the poor kid spontaneously decides to share his sexy girlfriend with his wealthier buddy after a co-ed wresting practice goes very awry. The movies never quite delves into full-blown bisexuality, and I don't know why because there is certainly no shortage of blatant homoeroticism. The two males both love wrestling, taking showers, and occasionally wrestling in the shower. The girl (Salome Stevenin, who could probably turn gay men straight) actually has fewer full-frontal nude scenes than the two males, but one of them is another scene you're probably never going to see in an American teen flick where she wipes down her upper thighs after having (apparently) unprotected sex with both guys.
I should add that nobody here looks anything like an actual teenager. All three leads are obviously very good-looking twenty-somethings (even the French don't use actual underage actors in movies this graphic). And while they're less sexually repressed in France, I don't think it's common for French teenagers to have three ways in school gyms and showers. Ironically though considering how graphic this is in parts, the teens here seem a lot less sexually obsessed than American teens in movies, who always seem to be single-minded virgins trying to "lose it" as if it were the quest for the Holy Grail as opposed to something that inevitably happens to pretty much everyone with functioning genitals. Few people realize that this whole "horny male virgin" plot in American movies was borrowed wholesale in the early 80's from the Israeli "Lemon Popsicle" series, which was set in the FIFTIES for christsake. The French aren't stuck in this time warp and they treat teen sex much more matter-of-factly with slightly more realistic teen characters who occasionally think of something else besides just getting their naughty bits wet.
Even as a teen, I only watched stupid teen movies for the gratuitous nudity by the attractive 25-year-old "teen" actresses. But even that went away in the benighted John Hughes era, and strangely "American Pie" brought back the raunch and ridiculously sex-obsessed teen virgin stereotypes, but it didn't really bring back the gratuitous nudity/sex. Ironically, American teen movies today not only probably send a bad message to teenagers about sex, but bore the hell out of any adults expecting to see any. By that standard this French film with its unveiled homoeroticism and rather graphic sex scenes is really quite an improvement.
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