Sex is Comedy

on October 20, 2004 by Chris Wiegand
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Catherine Breillat's "Sex Is Comedy" (a risible title indeed from the director of the devastating "Romance") is a multi-layered, self-reflective exercise. Nominally just another film about filmmaking, it concerns the shoot of a feature that bears remarkable similarities to Breillat's own "Fat Girl" and even stars that picture's lead actress, Roxane Mesquida. What's more, the director onscreen seems a substitute of sorts for Breillat herself--passionate, intensely strong-willed and fiercely devoted to her film.

Anne Parillaud (Luc Besson's "Nikita") stars here as a film director struggling to capture one episode in particular--a bedroom seduction involving a sullenly nervous young woman (Mesquida) and her eager, apparently older boyfriend (played expertly by Grégoire Colin from "The Dream Life Of Angels"). While the bulk of "Sex Is Comedy" concerns the staging of this scene--the prototype of which dominated "Fat Girl"--Breillat also depicts the small-scale dramas and dilemmas that plague the production at large. The leads have a hostile relationship, the weather is unpredictable and a prosthetic penis is proving particularly tricky. "I put my foot down! It broke itself," the director declares. "A perfect metaphor for this film!"

The real revelation in this endlessly engaging feature is the ever-present Parillaud, who dominates the picture like her character dominates the set. Haunted and weary, yet resolutely indefatigable, she's possibly (and rather ironically) one of Breillat's most successful creations. Alternately flirting and falling out with her leading man, her views on the relationship between a director and the cast recall Breillat's own. "I'm always in control," she makes clear. "They're MY actors." Other remarks such as "speech is the best chastity belt" and "sex is what people do most and admit to least" similarly smack of Breillat's own outspoken opinions.

The spirit of Fellini is, perhaps surprisingly, constantly evoked in this picture. His "Intervista" was, after all, an equally complex account of filmmaking. The Parillaud/Breillat pairing also recalls the maestro's casting of Marcello Mastroianni as the beleaguered director in the similarly introspective "8 1/2." Meanwhile, the fantastical dream recounted by Breillat's leading man--one in which he sports a penis that reaches the ceiling--is unquestionably Fellinian. Starring Anne Parillaud, Grégoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida and Ashley Wanninger. Directed and written by Catherine Breillat. Produced by Jean-François Lepetit. No distributor set. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 92 min

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