Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger is known as "le petite pornographe" by the French.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I seem to have lost my mind."—Jacques Laurent
Enthusiasts of foreign film will eventually encounter something French. More often than not, this experience involves lengthy passages of fatalistic dialogue—which by all rights should be deplorable navel-gazing crap, but somehow become both plausible and enlightening. Absurd situations manifest themselves, and only later does one realize how gut-bustingly funny the premise is. French film is constantly toying with her audience, acting coy and nihilistic, but smiling behind her hand at a grand joke.
Bertrand Bonello got the deplorable navel-gazing crap and absurd situations right, but forgot to enlighten us or clue us in to the grand joke. This French snoozer about a washed-up porn director is funny in all the wrong places, for all the wrong reasons. I would laugh if I weren't so damn bored.
The Pornographer details, or at least vaguely suggests, the crisis of a retired porn director re-entering the world of mainstream porn production. Jacques Laurent (Jean-Pierre Léaud) directs his actress by talking about love, emotion, and passion. He thinks perhaps the film should end with a birth. The sperm should be swallowed, not sprayed; after all, they are in love. In short, Jacques lacks a certain modern sensibility when it comes to sex films.
At least this subplot is related to pornography, which carries with it an illicit thrill. But The Pornographer spirals off into a series of absurd personal crises that are as unfathomable as they are interminable. Jacques has an estranged son. He leaves his supportive, pretty wife for no apparent reason. He sits in a clearing in the woods on a friend's estate and starts to build a house. He even gives an interview where he talks about his childhood, his mother, the sixties, and other stuff that people who aren't named Jacques Laurent don't really care about.
Jean-Pierre Léaud starred in Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and now he stars in this, shall we say, contrasting film. The Pornographer's failure is not Léaud's; he makes a valiant attempt to portray something deep and cohesive. The failure stems from an obtuse, fragmented script, a bewildering story arc, and excessive self-indulgence. I was constantly hearing whispers of promising themes in The Pornographer, but when I leaned in to hear them more clearly, Bonello stopped whispering and moved on to another topic. Is The Pornographer about personal crisis over a misspent life? Does it use pornography as a metaphor for filmmaking? Is it about the broken legacy our children will inherit? We may never know.
There is one scene worth discussing. Oddly enough, it features pornography performed by an actual French porn star, Ovidie. That's right, The Pornographer has porn in it. Not simulated—we're talking things going into other things, and spewing, and so on. If the British Board of Film Classification is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt them, this scene lasts for about 11 seconds. The scene in question is crucial for two reasons. It succinctly summarizes the crux of the film: Directing pornography is just a job for Jacques, and he's no longer any good at it. It is also the highlight of the film, and once the scene is over you can pretty much turn off the TV and not miss much. Bonello was kind enough to place this scene early, so you might as well watch from the beginning. The scene works (if that praise isn't too high) because of Ovidie. She is far and away the most compelling part of this movie. Her screen presence and honest-to-goodness acting ability cause her to steal the show. In fact, the interview with Ovidie (linked in the sidebar) about how she got into porn is exponentially more interesting than the entirety of The Pornographer.
The Pornographer is accompanied by an English-language short film by Bonello called The Adventures of James and Davis. The best I can say is that it avoids obvious dialogue, forcing us to glean the nature of the relationship between two brothers. The unfortunate ending renders this journey moot.
The DVD is clear and stable without excessive edge enhancement or artifacts. Colors seem concurrently muted and oversaturated, with a hint of bleed in reds and greens. Detail is poor, with shadow detail particularly so. The transfer is fine, really—it is not the problem here.
The inclusion of a 5.1 track is nice, but uncalled for. There is very little to test your surrounds, only your patience. The score is used sparingly, and when it kicks in it only highlights how little we care about Jacques and his self-inflicted plight.
Pretentious, meandering, and obsessed with sex while pretending not to be, The Pornographer distills everything that is wrong with French film and pours it over us slowly during the course of 106 minutes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Short Film: The Adventures of James and Davis
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