Judge Christopher Kulik was hoping for a film on the French Canadian Options Exchange.
On Dec. 21, 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a swingers' club is not a bawdy house—as long as its activities do not include antisocial behavior, cause physical or mental harm to those involved, or jeopardize an individual's dignity.
Translated as Swinging Couples, this French-Canadian production might as well be re-titled Swingers For Dummies. Those who are looking for a soft-core film are advised to look elsewhere. Those who are looking for an honest look at modern-day relationships are also advised to steer clear. You would be more apt to find more meaning in a bowl of granola, as watching Echangistes will make you wish an anvil fell on your head.
The film focuses primarily on three couples. Veronique (Kina Beauchemin) and Luc (Sylvain Latendresse) are regular customers to a Swingers club in downtown Montreal. Valerie (Natasha M. Leroux) is a restaurant manager whose marriage to conservative Charles (Erwin Weche) has grown stale. There is also Lisa (Diana Lewis), an office worker whose husband insists on having sex with himself, while also controlling his wife in whatever she does. One night, when all are having dinner together, Veronique suggest they go to the club and see if "swapping lovers" really improves their relationships.
Obviously, the filmmakers are concerned with summarizing the benefits and consequences of the swinger culture. Lisa is appalled at the idea, Charles gets jealous, Valerie gets a much needed release, Luc starts to sleep with Lisa more, etc., etc., etc. There's even a single guy who frequents the club and simply doesn't understand the unwritten rules for those who enter the culture without partners. By the end, however, we learn nothing about the culture which isn't already generally known, and the film comes off more like a rejected, super-bland soap opera pilot.
Despite its intentions, Echangistes comes off as an embarrassing misfire. None of these couples are well-developed or fleshed out (yes, pun intended), with their psychiatric "confessions" (which are supposed to reveal what they are truly thinking) coming off as especially cringe-worthy. In fact, some of them are just plain stupid when it comes to them not taking responsibility for their actions. Writer/director Simon Boisvert's dialogue is awfully superficial and the eventual ramifications are plenty predictable. Whatever statements he's trying to make on these lifestyles are buried underneath Jackie Collins-style theatrics.
As for the performances, don't even get me started. I would be hard pressed to choose who gives the worst acting, but the director gives himself a particularly annoying cameo as Weche's office partner. I could be wrong, but some of the actors looked very uncomfortable being in front of the camera, which only increases the abashment. My message to the entire cast would be not to give up their day jobs.
Released on DVD by Les Productions 1984, Echangistes has a flat, dull look to it which is obviously due to its low-budget. Still, it's reasonably acceptable in its 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation with not-bad flesh tones and black levels. However, the director's fetish for changing focus and lack of lighting is hard to endure. Audio is fine in 2.0 Stereo, and there are subtitles in English and French.
As for extras, there is an audio commentary, making-of documentary, and a trailer, which are all in the French language. The director is joined by one of the actresses (not sure which one, as the commentary was entirely in French), and the doc has some footage behind-the-scenes.
The film is found guilty of being artificial and as sharp as a bowling ball. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Les Productions 1984
• Audio Commentary
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