Some things never get old

... in­clud­ing this re­fresh­ingly adult search for love, sex and the whole damn thing

Regina Leader-Post - - YOU - TINA HASSANNIA

Don’t let the ti­tle Let The Sun­shine In fool you. The English name of French film­maker Claire De­nis’ lat­est — Un Beau Soleil In­térieur in her na­tive France — sounds more ap­pro­pri­ate as a banal in­spi­ra­tional quote on an om­bre-pink-hued vi­sion board than a film by De­nis. Some have called it the first rom-com for the 73-year-old au­teur — an ac­cu­rate term if a rom-com con­sisted pri­mar­ily of gal­lows hu­mour.

De­nis’ para­dox­i­cally cyn­i­cal, hu­man­ist cin­ema has tack­led top­ics as se­ri­ous and cere­bral as post-colo­nial­ism, sex­ual vi­o­lence and the gen­dered per­for­mance of mas­culin­ity across a richly lay­ered body of work. Rarely does it hinge on the ro­man­tic, like in Sun­shine. But “ro­man­tic” im­plies ide­al­ism, and Sun­shine is bit­ter­sweet in its de­pic­tion of love, steely while sexy, pre­sent­ing the nav­i­ga­tion of mid­dle age dat­ing and soul­mate-search­ing as a con­fus­ing and con­tra­dic­tory jour­ney.

Is­abelle’s (Juli­ette Binoche) tribu­la­tions might have some­thing to do with the qual­ity of men she dates. Most are aw­ful in a va­ri­ety of fash­ions: Vin­cent (Xavier Beau­vois), a con­temp­tu­ous mid­dle-aged banker whose treat­ment of servers is an im­me­di­ate red flag; a younger, un­named al­co­holic ac­tor (Ni­co­las Du­vauchelle) with a hotand-cold tem­per­a­ment, who blames Is­abelle be­cause he feels too vul­ner­a­ble around her; her ex-hus­band François (Lau­rent Grévill), who tries to con­trol Is­abelle’s per­sonal space in the guise of pro­tect­ing their daugh­ter. The for­mer two have wives, so it’s not like Is­abelle is do­ing her­self any favours choos­ing the men she at­tempts to love.

But this is what Sun­shine is all about: the com­pli­ca­tions of our de­sires, of mak­ing mis­takes. What dis­tin­guishes De­nis’ script (co-writ­ten by nov­el­ist Chris­tine An­got and loosely based on Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Dis­course: Frag­ments), and her film­mak­ing is the gut­ting com­plex­ity of such a sim­ple idea and

premise. De­nis keeps her cam­era and vis­ual com­po­si­tions sim­ple, though pointed. There are lin­ger­ing close-ups of Binoche’s sad, search­ing face as she tries to un­der­stand her lovers, her eye makeup as smoul­der­ing as the sen­su­al­ity she yearns to find.

The film opens with a lan­guid, love­less sex scene be­tween Vin­cent and Is­abelle. Later, she con­fides to a friend that she liked hav­ing sex with Vin­cent be­cause “he’s a bas­tard.” He proves this point most as­tutely when the cou­ple is at a bar. Is­abelle tries to keep up with Vin­cent’s neg­ging games while hu­mour­ing his os­ten­ta­tious re­quest from the bar­keep for “gluten-free olives.” Here, the cam­era play­fully bounces back and forth be­tween the two ac­tors like a ceil­ing lamp knocked askew, hint­ing at the com­pet­i­tive dy­namic of dat­ing some­one as dom­i­nant as Vin­cent. In an­other scene be­tween the sheets, he tells Is­abelle that she’s in­ter­est­ing, but his wife is … ex­tra­or­di­nary.

The os­cil­la­tion be­tween Is­abelle’s lust­ful ha­tred in­spired by such re­marks and her ro­man­tic op­ti­mism is de­light­ful to watch, as well as her tongue-in-cheek pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences — namely, the use of Etta James’ in­sipid, sac­cha­rine love song At Last, which comes on just as Is­abelle serendip­i­tously meets a stranger, Syl­vain (Paul Blain), on the dance floor.

Un­like other ro­man­tic come­dies deal­ing with mid­dleaged dat­ing, like the re­cent, pan­der­ing, messy Book Club, or Se­bas­tian Le­lio’s ex­cel­lent Glo­ria about a Chilean woman en­ter­ing the dat­ing scene af­ter a long lapse, Sun­shine doesn’t just em­brace the sex­u­al­ity of mid­dle-aged women — it por­trays it as a given. It’s eas­ier to ac­cept an older woman hav­ing sex on­screen when the ac­tress is as beau­ti­ful as Juli­ette Binoche, of course, but it’s also likely that a film­maker like De­nis — from a cul­ture more sex­u­ally lib­er­ated than other West­ern coun­tries, in­clud­ing our own — would never con­sider such rep­re­sen­ta­tion as even ques­tion­able. That re­sult­ing can­dour about sex is re­fresh­ing, to say the least.

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