The School Of Flesh (l'ecole De La Chair)

on May 31, 1998 by Lael Loewenstein
   French director Benoit Jacquot, who etched a beautifully subtle portrait of a girl at a turning point in "La Fille Seule," scores again with "The School of Flesh." This time, he's concerned with a wealthy middle-aged woman, Dominique (Isabelle Huppert), who is irretrievably drawn to Quentin (Vincent Martinez), a sexy young bartender of little means and a shady past. Occasionally cold and frequently unpredictable, Quentin nevertheless exerts a powerful sexual pull on Dominique and soon she has invited him to move into her stark, pristine apartment. But Quentin will not be tied down, and he betrays Dominique by sleeping with the daughter of one of her friends. The scene in which she learns of his betrayal, in public, is a superbly realized combination of tension, pain and dark humor. While the dialogue remains polite and superficial, characters' faces and glances nevertheless make the bitter subtext palpable.
   As in "La Fille Seule," Jacquot shows a keen ability to get under his characters' skins, evoking their mental states not through dialogue but rather through gestures and carefully nuanced performances. Jacques Fieschi's spare script, taken loosely from Yukio Mishima's novel, suits Jacquot's style well: Often what is unsaid is more important than what is spoken. And in Isabelle Huppert, Jacquot has an actress who infuses her character with a rich inner life. Cleverly playing with gender preconceptions, Jacquot inverts the older man-younger woman paradigm, but retains certain elements of that original construction by rendering Dominique the sexual aggressor and Quentin slightly feminized. In Jacquot's world, characters are intimate and remote at the same time, and sex--the physical bond that ties characters together--is the very thing that ultimately proves their undoing.    Starring Isabelle Huppert, Vincent Martinez and Vincent Lindon. Written by Jacques Fieschi. Directed by Benoit Jacquot. Produced by Fabienne Vonier. A Stratosphere release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Rated R for language and some strong sexuality. Running time: 105 min.
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