Sex vs Love. Movies Reviewed: The Past, The Stranger by the Lake, C*cksucker Blues
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Can there be love without sex… and sex without love? These movies say yes. This week I’m looking at a French drama about love tempered by divorce; another French drama about lust tinged with death; and a rarely-seen American doc about sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Dir: Asghar Farhadi
Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) is an extremely gentle, middle-aged guy – a French-speaking Iranian. He has an intellectual beard and wears a jaunty scarf around his neck. Ahmad is met at the airport in Paris by his beautiful French wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo). She’s in a foul mood. She asked him back to Paris to finalize their divorce. They’ve been living in two different countries since Ahmad moved back to Iran years ago.
Their relationship is finished… or is it? For some reason, she wants him to stay in her home, despite his request for a hotel room. He’s glad to see their two girls again. But then she makes him sleep in a kid’s bunk bed along with a bratty boy he’s never seen before. Hmmm…
That’s when the little boy’s father enters the picture. Samir (Tahar Rahim) is a smaller, less mature version of Ahmed. He’s a successful bearded small businessman who owns a dry cleaner. His wife recently died and it looks like Marie and Samir now want to get married. But Marie’s older daughter is going through a crisis, Samir’s son is upset about something else, and there’s big trouble at work. And Ahmad and Samir have to work together with Marie holding all the cards.
This movie tells its story in a fascinating way. At first you think it’s about Ahmad – but it’s not. The point of view shifts from scene to scene, character to character, as the past is gradually revealed. Whose kids are whose? Why did Samir’s wife die? And what are all these unspoken secrets?
The Past is a fantastically subtle movie. It’s low-key, yet powerful (if that makes sense). It doesn’t shove the big revelations in your face; it lets them out slowly, gradually, over the course of a conversation. The three stars are all great – you may have seen Bejo in the French silent movie The Artist, and Rahim in the prison drama A Prophet (both of which won Best Foreign Film Oscars). I’m less familiar with Mossafa, but he’s also outstanding. (And director Farhadi also won for A Separation). The Past is a family drama well worth seeing.
Dir: Alain Guiardie
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a young guy who hangs out at a gay nude beach. It’s a rocky lake surrounded by trees where men go for sex breaks. He makes friends with a shy, potato-faced man named Henri. Henri is confused about the whole place. He’s sure all the men there are cheating on their wives. He’s never heard of the concept of “full-time gays”. They chat about the sea monsters in the water and the guys on the beach. Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao) can tell Franck is attracted to a particular fit man with a Marlboro mustache – the stranger by the lake. And maybe that attraction is mutual. But Franck knows Marlboro Man is taken – he has a beach buddy.
But one night Franck sees the two of them frolicking out in the lake. The beach buddy goes down under water… and doesn’t come back up again. Is he dead? Did Marlboro man kill him?
Franck starts hanging with Marlboro Man – who he discovered is named Michel (Christof Paou). They tan together, have sex together… but only by the lake. At night Michel drives to somewhere mysterious – and he won’t say where.
When a body is found, a police inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) starts snooping around the beach. (He looks like Lt Colombo dying of cancer.) Franck is caught between lust and fear: is his mysterious lover also a serial killer?
This is a weird, eerie, almost surreal movie about casual sex, death and (in what might be an unspoken reference to HIV) the connection between the two. It’s sexually explicit but not always erotic. Stranger by the Lake is an excellent French art film.
Cocksucker Blues (1972)
Dir: Robert Frank
Robert Frank is a documentary photographer who was commissioned by the Rolling Stones to do a behind the scenes real-life documentary of their tour in 1972. He came up with this – a record of everything that happened – using small, hand-held cameras. You get to travel on board their private plane where everyone’s having sex, rolling around in the aisles. You get to see the hippy soundman giving Frank the hairy-eyeball every time he turns the camera toward him. Later you see the same guy shooting heroin.
You follow the entire entourage it takes to put on a show. Mick and Keith hunt for authenticity in the South. Groupies, hangers-on, bouncers, the make-up guy, the hair guy, the costume guy holding a single red rose. And the baby boomer fans are in clover and everywhere. The band bounces around the stage singing duets with Stevie Wonder. This is early behind-the-scenes celebrity culture, before it even had a name. Mick Jagger squeezing into his performance pantsuits. Andy Warhol and Truman Capote partying. Tina Turner showing off her voice. The unbelievably beautiful Bianca Jagger throwing shade at the camera…
In the end, the film was banned — the Stones thought the raw sex and drugs interfered with their rock star image – but it’s playing in Toronto, just once, as part of a Robert Frank retrospective called Hold Still.
Stranger by the Lake opens today, Cocksucker Blues has a free screening on the Free Screen tonight (but you have to pick up a ticket: go to tiff.net for details) and The Past opens next Friday (Jan 24).
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com