Fed up with her present lifestyle, and more particularly sexually dissatisfied with her fiance Fred, Sandrine decides to find a new way in life- intrigued by her friend Françoise, who tells her about her sexual experiments, and when she strikes up a conversation, in a park with stranger who discusses his philosophy of the emotional dead end that traps so many in this day and age. She leaves behind her job and an unfulfilling relationship with her fiance before encountering Greg, a psychiatrist who is an advocate of hypnotic therapy. She allows him to use his techniques to help her tap into the depth of her erotic desires, and when she meets Sophie, Greg's former lover who is willing to share tales of her own sexual explorations, she embarks on an odyssey to embrace the outer limits of her carnal imagination.Written by
I thought you didn't believe in anything.
L'homme sur le banc:
I don't believe in a god conceivable to the human mind that's all. Even that I have doubts about.
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Beautiful, but elementary and retro, expositions of sex and the universe
A festival blurb declares: "A sexually unfulfilled young woman embarks on a series of graphic erotic encounters and becomes involved with a student of psychoanalysis who offers to put her under hypnosis. Yes, the notorious Jean-Claude Brisseau, director of 'The Exterminating Angels' and 'Secret Things,' is back with his latest provocation. Another idiosyncratic philosophical meditation on the enigmas of female sexuality, it features the director's latest discovery, Carole Brana. Pretentious smut for high-brows, a dirty old man's fantasies writ large, or a profound and daring exploration of society's sexual taboos? You decide."
It's easy enough to decide that this is not "pretentious smut for highbrows" (do highbrows like smut?) or a "dirty old man's fantasies writ large." It is far too beautiful and intelligent and thoughtful for that. It's an odd film, which combines S/M, religious ecstasy, and some basic information about cosmology in an attractive package. Perhaps only a French filmmaker could have made this. And only a man still conventional in his notions of sexual roles could put lovely nude women on display having sex with each other and masturbating with men in charge and think it a bold exploration of new possibilities.
'À l'aventure' begins like a New Wave film, with conversation and random meetings. It might be early Eric Rohmer, for a little while, anyway; not for long. Sandrine (Carole Brana) sits on a bench talking to her friend Sophie (Lise Bellynck), and an older man (Étienne Chicot) joins them and makes wise reflections. What he says later influences her. She is about to come into an inheritance. She offends her boyfriend Fred (Jocelyn Quivrin) by masturbating in the next room after they have had sex. He says she's become a "slut" and very soon afterward he moves out.
Sandrine strikes up a conversation at a café with Greg (Arnaud Binard), a good looking man with books on psychology and hypnosis. It turns out he is training to be a psychiatrist. And he experiments on his patients. Sandrine immediately finds him attractive and says so. They go straight to his bedroom.
Later, Greg introduces Sandrine to several women and she also meets a long-haired architect and decorator, Jérome (Frédéric Aspisi), who's into heightening women's orgasms by playing their S/M master. Eventually Greg takes some of the women on a risky trip to ecstatic experience. All the while Sandrine keeps meeting the older man on the bench, and eventually at his cabin out in the country. He is a taxi driver but also studied meditation in India and taught physics. He outlines the rough history of the cosmos to Sandrine and gives a simplified explanation of Relativity.
The women are beautiful, especially the radiant Carole Brana. As the "Old Man," Étienne Chicot speaks with resonant authority and a healthy touch of humor. It is true that Brisseau's scenes of women having sex go further than usual; when men are shown, it's quite conventional. Greg and Jerome just watch. Poor Fred's performance is deemed unsatisfying. Even the shots of landscape around the Old Man's cabin are lovely. Watching the film is soothing and aesthetically pleasurable. At the end, the Old Man proclaims Greg's experiments foolish and risky; but other than a paranormal internal storm after a woman's reliving of a saint's spiritual enlightenment, there are no consequences.
The problem with this pleasant and in some ways daring film is that it is far too often more expository than dramatic. No matter how good looking the people and the settings are, it's hard to shake off the impression that one is being lectured -- and not on a very sophisticated level. Nothing is imparted that one would not get in elementary courses or basic reading in psychology, cosmology, religious experience, and physics. The wisest advice comes from Sandrine's mother (Michele Larue). She counsels her to go back to Fred and tells her she's lucky that instead of having boredom with a young lover ahead, she will discover love for a man she doesn't like enough yet. Convention, she says, is necessary. But as the film ends, Sandrine hasn't discovered that yet. The film barely touches on the possible negative consequences of a life that's more exploratory than practical. Brisseau is 65. Is this where French baby boomers are at?
'À l'aventure' has been optioned by IFC. It opens in France April 1, 2009. It was shown in February 2009 as part of the 'Film Comment' Selects series at Lincoln Center, New York.
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