Film Scouts Reviews

"Comment je me suis disputé... (ou ma vie sexuelle) (My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument)"

by Karen Jaehne

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Cannes, May 11, 1996

The title lets you know that this is a rambling, self-conscious film trying hard to be sexy and not knowing when to stop. At nearly three hours, it seems to be more important than it probably is. It could be seen as an entire season of "Friends" episodes, strung together without commercials. It speaks meaningfully to intellectual 20-somethings who still deem friendship more important than family or love or career. Jean Eustache's "The Mother and the Whore" did the same thing in 1974 for my generation, which is to say this movie's importance will depend entirely on how seriously a certain age group takes themselves and films about themselves. Given the number of self-obsessed cinéastes out there, it could be very big.

A narrator guides you through the plot, so what you really watch are the psychological relationships. You'd be hard-pressed even to identify Paris, except it's the only place in the world where people get away with this much talk. They talk a lot about friendship. They talk about each other. And they are not afraid of philosophy or Big Ideas.

This is a story about a time in Paul's life when he's still a well-intentioned, 29-year-old, terribly egocentric assistant professor in philosophy - surrounded by other obsessive men. Despite Paul's ten-year relationship with Esther, who is not his intellectual equal, he goes through women like kleenex. In that inimitable French way, Paul and his Pals obsess about sex and make it seem very sophisticated. The women are all beautiful, the guys are open-eyed, engaging types, mentally stranded in graduate school.

Life, as it is organized and regularly up-ended by women, is embarrassing. The film manages to cover every contemporary issue - from abortion to child abuse - and hit all the red buttons on our control panels. It also adeptly moves through sit-com territory, making us laugh at the little psychological mechanisms that keep us unhappy and therefore more interesting than most sit-com characters.

The men think women make them miserable, and vice-versa. I wonder if the director even suspects that he has drawn an unflattering portrait of the guys? Maybe I'm seeing it as a *woman*? It just may be one of those gender-sensitive films. The point of most action here is to talk about it - particularly sexual exploits. The women tolerate these guys (it's hard to call them men), because at 29 you buy the soap: Brilliance justifies vanity. Perplexing...again, I wonder if Desplechin realizes the sexism in the film is unworthy of so good a work?

Heralded in France as the heir of Woody Allen, Desplechin has given the film a title warranting a translation like "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About French Intellectuals Having Sex and Were Too Disinterested To Ask." It is undeniably well-directed, and even if the women are consistently developed as types that intellectual men love to hate, it's the kind of movie that people like to see - then endlessly discuss. But it could use a few commercial interruptions, just to refill the chardonnay glasses and check those Nietzsche citations.

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