ROMANCE HAS GENERATED a lot of fake controversy since its release in France earlier this year. Many film pundits have indicated that it is too sexy for American audiences, and that the explicit depiction of sexuality and nakedness would shock parochial American tastes. Plus, according to the hubbub, there's a great deal of sex in the movie. And also nudity and people doing naked things together in a highly sexual manner. Thus goes the buzz.
As buzzes go, it's reminiscent of the stories that Warner Bros. planted in the entertainment media about Eyes Wide Shut being the sexiest movie ever made. Or like my all-time favorite fake controversy, the one surrounding Basic Instinct. The one where Sharon Stone "complained" to the press that her unclothed genitalia could be seen in the film, that she was unaware this part of her anatomy had been filmed, in spite of the fact that she did the scene sans culottes while someone was shining a light between her legs. Of course, if she didn't tell everyone that you could go to this movie and see her unclothed groin, how would anyone know that such a terrible crotch-revealing injustice had been committed against her naked self? But I digress.
Romance, the story of a woman whose dissatisfaction with her impotent boyfriend leads her into a world of sensual pleasures with other men, actually does have hardcore sex in it (this being its big draw), though it is perhaps the most untitillating sex film ever produced outside the hardcore industry.
The film begins in the incredibly cool apartment of Marie (the lovely Caroline Ducey) and Paul (the delicious, although not-so-well-endowed Sagamore Stévenin). Their apartment reflects Paul's pale sexuality: everything is white. White rug, white walls, white clock-radio, white cassette player, white lamp, and white kitten purring on the white sheets of the white bed.
Marie, it seems, enjoys sexual intercourse, but Paul is no longer interested. In order to show Paul's complete lack of interest, writer/director Catherine Breillat includes the only hardcore blow job sequence ever filmed that was actually integral to the plot. Marie goes to work, as it were, but to no avail, a lack of avail graphically illustrated by Sagamore Stévenin's limp performance.
Thus, Marie must search for other outlets (or inlets). We know this not only because she heads out to a pick-up bar, but because her incessant voice-over monologue reiterates every moment of the film. For example, while talking to a potential lover, she says to him, "I'm married." Then in voice-over she says to the audience, "I told him I was married." Yeah, I think we got that part, Marie.
She continues her inner monologue while making what the French call "l'amour," thinking, "Why can I only love him or hate him...I sink into a deep pit...a man who screws a woman dishonors her...I want to be a hole...a pit...the more disgusting, the more gaping, the better..." Actually, this stuff is sort of hypnotically pretentious, and is an interesting contrast to a hardcore sex scene that is paradoxically as boring to watch as Ted Koppel on Quaaludes.
Marie's voice-over droning goes on as she drops her first lover (played by Rocco Siffredi, best known for his work in such classics as Buttman in Barcelona, Buttman's European Vacation, Buttman in Rio, Anal Island, Anal Fever, Anal Princess, and Vivid's Bloopers and Boners, to name just a few of his 112 film appearances) and starts bedding down with her boss.
Marie teaches grade school, and her boss (the principal, I presume) walks into her classroom as she's giving a grammar lesson. "To have and to be," she pontificates to her charges, "one can have without being, and be without having." I think this was supposed to be some kind of self-conscious reference to Marie's exploits, but watching her go all Jean Paul Sartre in front of a room full of 7-year-olds was at least as amusing as watching Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey get hit in the head with a melon. Anyway, the principal is taken by Marie because, well, she's really hot, but also because he watches her misspell an entire lesson on the chalkboard. Apparently, she was not hired for her teaching job on the basis of her reading and writing skills. However, the principal finds that her other talents make her a more than worthy addition to his faculty. So Marie continues her exploration of her sexuality with the principal, and more sex scenes ensue until the film reaches its explosive "climax."
Much of Romance is genuinely funny, though whether it's on purpose is a question open to debate. Like when Marie grabs Paul's penis and starts to rhapsodize about it, saying "it is like a little bird...a little bird who wants to fly away." Or when Marie goes to the gynecologist and a long line of interns takes turns probing her...well, that one's funnier than it sounds. Anyway, my friend Claudette believed that all the yuks in these scenes were intentional, whereas I presume that any French film that does not include a man who repeatedly falls down was not intended to be funny. In fact, here's a quick guide to international comedy: the French think it's funny when a man falls down. Latin Americans think it's funny when a man is trying to do something and he gets distracted by a woman with large breasts. And USA-type Americans think that any film about two stupid guys is funny. So maybe Americans won't laugh at Romance, but no doubt they'll go see it for the shocking depiction of human unclothedness and nudity.