Sex is Comedy Review

In 2001, Catherine Breillat directed A ma soeur!. a film of some controversy which contains a lengthy sex scene. The making of this scene is the inspiration behind her new film. Sex is Comedy is a film about the making of a film. The director is Jeanne (Anne Parillaud), a perfectionist who is just as demanding on herself as she is on her cast and crew. But how can she film a convincingly passionate sex scene when the actor (Grégoire Colin) and actress (Roxane Mesquida, who played the same role in A ma soeur!) clearly can’t stand each other?

There have been films about the making of films many times before, from Eight and a Half and Day for Night on downwards. Sex is Comedy (oddly, an English-language title for a film entirely in French) certainly isn’t in that league, and if you know how films are made there isn’t a great deal here that you won’t have heard before. There are certainly amusing scenes, such as the actor and actress – we never learn their names – having to simulate passion on a beach in freezing cold weather. Another is the difficulties in making a prosthetic penis for the actor that fits properly. (This episode will raise a smirk for British audiences, given that the technician making the prosthetic is called Willy.) The acting is another compensation. Anne Parillaud never really took as a Hollywood leading lady in the 1990s, and as she’s now in her forties I suspect American offers dried up. So it’s nice to see her again, in a leading role, clearly more at ease when speaking her own language. Looking remarkably like Breillat, she gives a strong performance as a demanding perfectionist prepared to do what she needs to – flirt, play the martinet – to get what she wants from her cast and crew. Unfortunately she has some dialogue about the philosophy of acting and directing that might sound better in French but comes over as pretentious in English, at least as translated here. Of the remainder of the cast, only Grégoire Colin has much to do, as an actor who is good looking and knows it and plays upon it.

Sex is Comedy has its moments, and will certainly be of interest to anyone who liked Breillat’s earlier films. But it’s a slight work, showing a talented director marking time.

The film is transferred in the original ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphic. In terms of picture quality, this is up to Artificial Eye’s usual standards: I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. The film was shot in natural light with muted colours, but that seems to be a Breillat trademark. However, this means that you’d be unlikely to use this DVD to show off your TV set.

Sex is Comedy had a Dolby Digital soundtrack on its release but as is more often than not the case, Artificial Eye eschew Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in favour of 2.0 ones. This is so here: Dolby Surround, in the original French language. The film is very dialogue-driven, all to the centre channel, with the surrounds used for ambience, some direction effects such as the sea in the opening sequence, and very sparely-used music.

This DVD is encoded for Region 2 only, with optional English subtitles and twelve chapter stops.

In terms of extras, this is a basic catalogue disc with features to match. The main extra is the theatrical trailer, which is in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 and runs 1:36. It’s not especially enciting. It has a Dolby Surround soundtrack which for some reason is mixed louder than that of the main feature. The only other extra are text filmographies of Breillat, Parillaud, Colin and Mesquida. Breillat’s lists her novels and screenplay credits for other directors, but not her small number of acting roles.

Sex and Comedy can be recommended to anyone particularly interested in Breillat’s work, but is unlikely to appeal much to a wider audience. Certainly anyone expecting smut will be disappointed. This is minor Breillat, and gets a DVD release to match.

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