Judge William Lee has a story to share at your next dinner party.
Agathe: You can feel lust at any given moment.
Can porn be respectful to its participants and promote safe, healthy sexual relationships? Former "militant feminist" Ovidie (The Pornographer) thinks so. Adult satellite channel Frenchlover TV thinks so too. In 2008, the "sexual education channel for adults" hired Ovidie to head their production department. Sex Stories, or Histoires de sexe(s), is the kind of sex film that perhaps only the French could make.
Agathe is hosting a dinner party for her girlfriends Sandrine, Lise and Jennifer. As is usually the case, their conversation will inevitably turn to sex. Caroline, Agathe's daughter, is uncomfortable with this situation so she is going out for the evening. Unfortunately for Caroline, her boyfriend Jean-Philippe is hosting a guys' night in. Sandrine's husband Bertrand, Lise's husband Franck, and their meathead pal Seb are attending his party.
Over the course of the evening, the women and the men discuss the state of their sexual lives and their stories are occasionally illustrated in flashbacks. Sandrine and Bertrand are a swinging couple with "rules" about their marriage, yet they've both explored extramarital trysts without the other's knowledge. Lise and Franck are feeling some tension in their marriage because she isn't enjoying the sex and this increasingly frustrates him. Seb is pursuing his goal of having sex with as many women as possible, oblivious to the possibility that he may not be a good lay. Meanwhile, Jean-Philippe continues to avoid Caroline because he isn't in love with her and actually prefers Agathe.
The detailed sex conversation over dinner scenario is about as believable as any housewife seducing pizza delivery guy plot. However, co-writers-directors Ovidie and Jack Tyler aren't striving for realism or mere titillation. Their film has the didactic intent of opening viewers' minds to the possibilities of honest communication about sex and it succeeds on many levels. Unlike those of most sex films, these characters feel real, have developed personalities and say interesting things. The script finds the appropriate contexts for the sex scenes so that the action and the drama are given equal attention. There are even humorous moments, such as Caroline's attempt at fellatio courtesy of instructions from a magazine, that fit well with the overall tone of the story. If there is a problem with the small complexities that are revealed about the characters' lives, it is that the drama feels unresolved in the end. Sex is a messy affair and there are no easy solutions to some of the couples' dilemmas. That being said, this is still the fantasy realm where it's simply good manners to have quick, casual sex to repay the lending of CDs or a lift across town.
Co-directors Ovidie and Tyler deliver the requisite explicit sex scenes but manage to keep them from dominating the movie. The unsimulated sexual encounters come about naturally from the script and last only as long as needed. The "quickies" that Seb and Jennifer engage in occupy little screen time since they're meaningless to the characters. In contrast, the bedroom moments between Lise and Franck need to be a little slower. Sometimes, the scenes don't even reach the expected climax. Whereas most mainstream pornos run through a set menu of maneuvers during the sex scenes, individual scenes here are content with one or two positions. By staying clear of the gymnastics and exaggerated groans that are so often the norm, Ovidie and Tyler stage scenes that are more believable and intimate. It helps immensely that we see the participants as real characters rather than fleshy props. While genitalia and penetration are seen on screen, the camera work is elegant and avoids those crude, deliberately clinical angles.
With acting, storytelling and filmmaking that is considerably more sophisticated than has been exhibited in mainstream porno, Sex Stories is certainly worth a look if you're interested in a fresh and thoughtful treatment of sex on film. Ovidie and Frenchlover TV have an agenda, sure, and if they're out to do something new with sex films, then more power to them. If this genre is ever going to strive for respectability, this movie is a huge step in the right direction.
Breaking Glass Pictures brings this French erotic drama to North America in a basic but respectable DVD presentation. The picture, shot on digital video, is clean and sharp. Though the overall lighting design lacks variety, the movie has a very professional appearance and colors have a pleasantly warm tone. The basic stereo audio mix is fine and I'm glad there isn't an overuse of music to score the sex scenes. English subtitles could use some more attention for spelling consistency but it's not too difficult to understand what they're talking about.
All parties are free to go but we'd like to see them in judge's chambers again soon. Not guilty.
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