They’re French, Meta, and Not Bad: La Petite Lili and Sex Is Comedy

A new, great passion for freely admitting when I’m wrong — stemming from my eternal desire to Not Resemble George Bush, no doubt — prompts me to acknowledge that despite my long-professed hatred of:


2.contemporary French film

I dug the two recent French metamovies La Petite Lili and Sex Is Comedy, though both are predictably self-indulgent.

La Petite Lili isn’t actually anything to write home about; it’s all long, tawny limbs wrapped round each other, older and younger mirrors of female beauty, lips pursed in tiny mews (and that’s mostly the boys, naturally), and the raging questions, posed without a flicker of the aw-shucks American self-effacement: What is art? What comprises good art? What of life is so real that it resists translation into art? Is anything? Really? The young Lili is a local, lolling about in the high grasses with the young aspiring filmmaker living in the country house of his famous actress mommy, who’s with a famous, establishment director. Ya, ya, guess who ’lil Lili makes a play for? And which pouty lil filmmaker expresses his anguish a little too literally on that bridge called his back? And survives to make a movie about it, starring everybody as themselves. Life is but a pretty dream, gold and green. You’ve got to give it to the French, though: They know the difference between porn and erotica. The line between art and erotica is a slippier slope. And a sloppier one, at that. But so, so easy on the eyes.

The nice thing about Lili is that it’s so pretentious it’s laughable, which kind of voids its pretensions and allows you to bask in its prettiness. Sex Is Comedy is less comedy (and less sex), but it raises specific points that are uncomfortably compelling — perhaps the only useful function of a metamovie. Directed by Catherine Breillat, the movie can be summed up in one handy axiom: Regardless of your gender, you have to be a girl to be an actor. And you have to be a man to be a director. The story, once again, is primarily of a young girl’s tawny limbs wrapped around a young boy, but it’s wrapped up in a larger story of a female director laboring to coax that sex scene out of a truculent young actor. Or should I say actress. (Nah, I mean actor.) In the director’s statement in the press notes, she writes, “It’s a story about human relationships, male and female, and the subtle ties between those who give orders and those who obey them.” More than that, it’s about how the complicated act of creation requires a meeting of will and willingness, of the qualities traditionally associated with men and women. The boy falls into sulks, unaccustomed to being spoken to in so strident a manner by a woman; the woman coos, barks, coils as she whispers into the young boy’s ear whatever it takes to extract the performance she believes her film requires. Sex is a silly dance that should be French Feminism 101, but in its own way, is instead terribly original. More than that, though I rolled my eyes more than once, I never once glanced at my watch.

Two more French movies rolling soon down the pike that are even better: Look at Me and Somebody Killed Bambi. I’ll describe them in greater detail as their release date draws closer, but suffice it to say I am revising my opinion of contemporary French film. See? Like the shirt says, my bush would make a better president.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy