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
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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