Lessons in Love, Sex, and Betrayal
Why is that only French films seem to be able to be about nothing and still be good? I've seen a number of French films that are composed mostly of simple, and often disjointed, images from the lives of the characters, but somehow it all seems to come together and make for an interesting piece. The School of Flesh is another one of them. Of course with a title like that it sounds like either a porno flick or a bondage movie, but it's actually just a simple story of love attempting to triumph over everything. Or, perhaps, it's closer to lust making people ignore reality to their detriment.
Dominique, played by Isabelle Huppert (After Love, Keep it Quiet, The Flood), is the well-off daughter of a late famous scientist. Evidently her father left her with enough assets to be comfortable and not have to work, but she does so anyway just to keep busy. She's alone after a marriage that she left out of seemingly cruel and unusual boredom. Now she finds herself in middle age and lonely and not really sure of what to do with her personal life.
One night, while bar hopping with her friend, she goes into a bar that is patronized by a mixture of gay and straight people, a place where they'd never gone before. While there, she spots an attractive young guy working at the bar, to whom she seems instantly attracted (first bad sign ladies, just in case you are keeping track). She hits up the cross dressing waiter for information about the guy and finds out that he is basically a bisexual hustler pretty much just looking to make a buck.
Dominique thinks maybe this isn't such a bad idea and figures paying for it might have its advantages for a woman like herself (bad move number two.) So eventually she makes her move and they start the ever-popular Mating Dance of Death. Her new beau Quentin, played by rookie Vincent Martinez, is moody, manipulative, violent and self-destructive. So of course she invites him to live with her, since—like all women—she knows that all he needs is a little attention (three strikes and she's out).
What follows is one more variation on love gone awry, done quite well in my opinion. We follow the downward spiral of their relationship, and her attempts to dig into his past and find out what and who this secretive Adonis is. Along the way we meet some of the colorful characters that Quentin runs with, people that a sheltered woman like Dominique wouldn't normally meet. But she is quite adamant about finding out the truth and brave enough to follow the trail wherever it goes. Eventually we come to a quite bittersweet ending that might have been done a few times before, but which still works well when done right.
I find it interesting that Martinez has a bit of a cleft palette and Huppert has a very average body. This is interesting because I think it shows a difference between small scale (and particularly foreign) filmmaking and American films. In this country, standing between these folks and a leading film role in a hot love story would be a very large plastic surgeon. Only pretty people get to reproduce in American movies. Huppert is, I assume, in her late 30s but she has a face that, as they say, the camera really loves. She has that built in "Vaseline on the lens" look that works so well in this type of film.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is not of reference quality, but more than good enough for the material. There are a good number of dark scenes anyway, so there's not as much room for the image to become a concern. Of course, if your system doesn't handle black level well, these might be a bit dull looking. I think it's quite nice that Columbia is serious enough about anamorphic treatment that they provide it even for a small, artsy film such as this.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The audio track is just Dolby stereo on this disc, so no one is going to use it to show off the system. But of course that's not the kind of film this is anyway. For the subject matter, it works well enough. Since it's in French, I wouldn't have noticed if the vocals were difficult to understand or not, since they would have been difficult for me either way, no?
If you don't like slow, artsy, foreign, relationship films, then this one would be majorly soporific; but, it's a matter of taste, and you probably know who you are. If you do like them, and I do, then this one is a good example. There is a small amount of nudity, though the much more sexually sane Europeans just treat it as what it is and don't make a big deal out of it. And there's a good bit of gender bending, which might make some uptight Americans squeamish.
I think that School of Flesh is well worth checking out if you are into this kind of thing. If you are a fan of French independent cinema, certainly you'd want to see it. If you are just looking for a nice "chick flick," and don't mind subtitles (or speak French), it would also be a good selection.
Acquitted, because it's foreign and I want to seem all hip and whatnot. It does though suffer due to lack of extras and less than stellar audio.
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