If you have a thing for cheating middle-aged French chicks...well, Judge Brett Cullum has a film for you.
Diane: When you're twenty you cry for love because you think it's the last. When you're 40, you cry because it is the last.
After Sex was a controversial release in the States during 1998, after the film enjoyed a successful run at the French box office, encouraged by much love from the Cannes Film Festival. Don't get it confused with the Brooke Shields/Virginia Madsen comedy of the same name; this is the one with a red cover and is a French import. It's all about a woman named Diane (Brigitte Rouan, Venus Beauty Institute) who just happens in to stumble into an affair with a man twenty years younger than she (Boris Terral, Metroland). She's not looking, because she has a loving husband and two great kids. Still, there's something animal in her that can't say no when a young engineer bats his eyes. Diane seems to be in the grip of a mid-life crisis that would rival any male's (I'm tempted to label it a "mid-wife" crisis). The movie was controversial because the sex scenes were so energetic, and many people were offended by the idea of a forty-year-old actress graphically enjoying an on-screen sexual act with a twenty-year-old man. This was long before Demi and Ashton, so it felt very revolutionary at the time. But honestly, if you're hoping for some intense sex, you'd be better off with porn or a Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) movie.
While the sex scenes are steamy, they are also messy and clumsy. I've never seen a more accurate depiction of sexuality. Let's face it—in the real world, people having sex looks funny. After Sex allows its leads to be sweaty, hormonal, bumbling fools, knocking over lamps, getting clothes caught, and falling over high heels. Then there's a sequence about the afterglow, where Diane literally goes through the rest of her day on a pink cloud. Her affair invigorates her, makes her look younger, and is liberating. Until her husband finds out—then things take a dark turn for her. The catch is Diane isn't prepared to pay for the consequences of her fling, but there's always a price. Even worse, her young stud cruelly dumps her as well. Ever seen a woman go through a breakup? After six seasons of Sex and the City I thought I had, but After Sex treats us to the crying jags and wailing full force.
The movie is buoyed by a thoughtful performance by Brigitte Rouan, who goes to great extremes to play all the emotions of a woman caught in the act. She's never a bad person, and we feel for her more than we want to judge her for the indiscretion she has committed. Certainly we understand her lawyer husband is gone much of the time, and he's reached an age where carnal desire is not at the top of his marital priorities. There's a strange thing called "bed death" that happens to many married couples, where lust transitions to a comfortable intimacy that is not always fiery and passionate. And sometimes you can yearn for that first contact, the limerance stage of love when sex is out of this world and totally new. Part of the reason After Sex captures the desires of a middle-aged woman in crisis so well is that Brigitte not only stars in the film, but she directed it, and helped write the screenplay. Neat little hat trick for the French actress.
The DVD for After Sex is a bare bones affair with no extras or supplemental material. I would have loved a commentary to see if any of it was autobiographical, because Rouan seems to know exactly how to play this film. The film's transfer is soft and grainy, and the sound is not exactly robust. It seems to be just a straight port with no special attention paid to the foreign title. Everything looks and sounds just a little washed out, which perhaps could be seen as an artistic choice, were it not so obvious it was just laziness on the part of the mastering company.
What you've come to After Sex for is a different kind of movie, perhaps one that would never fly in America. One where a married woman has an affair, and must deal with the aftermath. Where a woman must face raw, naked emotions even men of cinema never deal with. Even great American infidelity classics like Fatal Attraction have to express the consequences of an affair by making a monster out of a woman. But the French understand sex and love far more than we do. They don't need to boil bunnies to make us feel bad. All they need is a lot of alcohol, some strong cigarettes, and a beret to drive their point home. Vive le revolution of the sex! After Sex is a strong lesson in the consequences of the emotions raging inside a woman.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
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