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The Pornographer
cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jérémie Rénier, and Dominique Blanc

director: Bertrand Benello

108 minutes (18) 2002
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region '0' retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Unfairly received by British critics, this film is more than an excised cum shot. Much more. Any lack of support for his acting ability certainly did not put other film directors providing Jean-Pierre Léaud with a constant income. For those who would have him forever as Antoine Doinel, deprived of knowledge of his steady curriculum vitae over the last 40 years outside of his Truffaut films, there is a shock in store. Leaud takes the role of the title pornographer, Jacques Laurent, a sorry sight of a man with an overhang of belly, flopping hair and the ratty knitted pullover that puts one immediately in mind of Australian faux cultural attaché Barry Patterson. The maker of 'Schoolgirl Hotel', 'Exhibition' and 'Diary of a Sow' he is returning to the game after an absence of some 15 years having fallen out with the porno film process as it had become by 1984. He had, after all, only entered the industry in 1968 in the electric wake of the student riots of Springtime Paris recognising the incoming hardcore variant of erotic film as an exponential step crying out to be exploited in itself to his own creative and didactic ends, his youth, naivet´┐Ż and perhaps suspected, or simply unbeknownst of, limitations as yet to be succumbed to.
   It is a trap that has endured, a rule that has since permeated, that once one has entered the porno industry, one is part of it and there must remain. There is no going back, a freefall acceptance beyond commiseration that Laurent finds readily evidential in the odd nubile under his camera's falling lens, like Jenny (Ovidie), the star of the new production. His errant son, Joseph (Jérémie Rénie from Brotherhood Of The Wolf) is at an equally loose end inheriting the gene for rebellion but in these breakneck technological times finding it intractably difficult finding a creative new form of rebellion. The father's insane approach to revolution is matched when the son proposes the new radicalism in mute protest. For father and son there is joylessness and frustration in love, occupation and everything that surrounds each with creative fulfilment something seemingly unreasonable.
   Creativity and sense shrink and stifle in the technologically spiralling era and its capitalistic stipulations. If Laurent felt that he was losing control of his bailiwick in 1984, he is shortly to learn that his current re-entry has been garnered for nothing more than to act as an eccentric, iconic mascot and human logo for a new batch of regulation pornos in which even the penetration scenes are chosen from a catalogue. On set he makes a half-hearted retaliation, imposing a no fingernail polish rule on the 'hardeuses', calling for the cessation of the blared 'atmosphere music' that is expected with the roll of the cameras and instructing Jenny not to "take it in the face" but to swallow, a move that would rob the production company of its requisite average of cum shots; only to have it all overridden by the business proficient producer. Career suicide is further mooted when Laurent, in the delightfully lost style of those of the Russ Meyer ilk, suggests that, straight fucking being a negative activity that they should close the film with actual footage of a child being born, much to the disbelief and chagrin of the modern porno film producer who has no intention of appeasing the celebrity director with his whimsies.
   Come the next film Laurent has submitted to the quick and prescribed new and it is only when he breaks away from the porn that he ironically finds the subject female that invokes the spirit that has him branch out with his own violent and abstract independent, signature, pornographic production, that he intends as his rebel yell goodbye to the fake, glossy, ordered, dull and dispiriting industry it has creatively devolved into; though we are suspect to the farewell knowing at this stage how hopeless Laurent is in any other aspect of his life. His voice is as crushed as he is, the words pushed out on his breath. The reunion with the son has also revivified attempts to be reconfigured outside the industry, with disastrous and pathetic results. The termination of a long-term relationship (Jeanne played by Dominique Blanc) to remove the temptation of his continued existence as a kept man is crushing for the partner and makes a despicable antihero of him, yet even here there is the pathetic possibility that it may one day recommence with his eventual acceptance of his all-round ineptitude. There is a sadly comedic heightening of his inadequacies when he secures a plot of land from a friend in order to build a house with his own hands and is periodically found mulling tiredly and hopelessly over the stringed and pegged larder-sized rooms with a pitiable amount of raw materials about him on the grass.
   Elements and themes shuffle back and forth and in and out, at a subtle pace, in a configuration that may never fully fall into place until multiple repeat viewings have been secured or the directors oeuvre has been substantially developed. The camera adheres to that preservation order of classic Gallic cinema, the successful portrayal of France the beautiful, the device of a comforting canvas in which to play out complicated enough themes. The loveliness of the backdrop suggests the influence of Rohmer, while the theme bop, sudden humour and provocative notions are very Truffaut.
   There is a subtle infectiousness from scene to scene, no sequence is left as duff or daft as it initially appears, not even the visit by the son to a naff disco (and a fun dance trance that is fast becoming the potter's wheel of busy and thoughtful French films) or the Laurent's audacious impromptu stalking quickstep from street to bedroom unnoticed by an attractive young woman, that he resolves with a confession to momentary madness. That which is quickly established is reversed or given an upside. The assertive friend is located next in a depression, his suavity sacrificed then to denigrating and pathetic comments. Interrelating themes are up for discovery at every level and the striven for interview by a journalist (Catherine Mouchot) doubles our knowledge and salvages the character and our liking for him, usefully playing off the none too clever connivances of the reporter to increase our wish to see him win for once. It was a win he anticipated, pursued and needed. He is not exactly newborn like the birth scene he meant to have close his return movie, neither is the slate clean, but it is a positive note with which to carry on and build upon, unlike his unfeasible dream house project, and appropriately he settles into a dinky flat instead.
   There is a paradoxical script structure of unsettling softness, a richness of filmic premises that border on the abstract yet from which a perceptible sense can be drawn. A fight between Joseph and his student pal is lazily engaged in and fades to black without the resolve. The reunion between father and son is a montage of little worthwhile said as bright day proceeds to dark evening.
   The image is lovingly gardened in landscapes of soft, becalming hues, the locations used friendly and even familiar, whether stately or Parisian urban. It is an engaging work, told with a quiet forcefulness, on the wing of a flitting camera with that imperturbable Spanish air. As for the notorious hardcore pornographic inclusions, they are to a minimum, briefer still under the excisions of the certification board. They amount to an instruction to "remove close-up of a man masturbating penis to climax on woman's face and all shots of ejaculation and semen (vive la difference?) on woman's face" some 26 minutes into the film. Ten years after the reacceptance in theatrical distribution of Ai No Corrida to British cinemas including like graphic material the decision of the BBFC is surprising and is no doubt a retaliation to the director's clever scripted contrivance that warranted its conclusion. The producers may also have avoided the chagrin of the board by submitting a clause to distributors to curtail such actions as concluding one such existing trailer (to be found amid the DVD extras) with the words 'Cumming Soon' that only play up on that 11-second sequence. This is a work, after all, that is both on and below the surface about much more than the making of modern pornographic films.
   The DVD is easy to navigate with biographies for Bertrand Bonello, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Jérémie Rénier and a number of minor treats that include statements on the BBFC decision to clip the film for theatrical and video release by 11 seconds from both the director and the certifier, more notes in further defence of the film from critic Pierre Perrone, a small stills gallery and a tasty half-dozen trailers for other Tartan releases.

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