Catherine Breillat, 2002, France/Portugal, 92 mins, subtitles
Cast: Anne Parillaud, Gregoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida, Ashley Wanninger, Dominque Collandant
On a sunny day at the beach a young man and woman draw toward each other. The couple breaks abruptly and we are taken behind the camera and into the midst of a film shoot. The director - Jeanne (Anne Parillaud) - is battling with both the changeable weather conditions, and with her two equally temperamental lead actors. As the shoot goes on Jeanne moves the action to a studio, so avoiding the fickleness of the weather, but the tempers of her cast are not so easily sidestepped. Jeanne must alternately cajole and confront her two difficult actors - played by Roxanne Mesquida (seen in Breillat's earlier film A Ma Soeur!) and Grégoire Colin (Beau Travail) - if she is to elicit the performances she desires for the film's important sex scene.
Catherine Breillat's partly autobiographical film demonstrates that a filmmaker may spend as much time understanding her actors, their foibles and hang-ups, as exploring those of her characters - or rather, that the former is necessary if the latter is to be successful. The relationship between the actors is cleverly complicated as we see that it is the manipulative and 'cocky' man, rather than the reluctant young woman, who is to be most exposed. The decision to use a prosthetic penis during the sex scene unsettles Colin's character who attempts to mask his vulnerability by strutting around the set and making jokes for the benefit of the crew.
Breillat's motivation in Sex is Comedy was to explore the complex influences at play behind the camera during the making of a film. She states: "I wanted to make this film because of the glut of "Making Of " videos designed to convince people that they can reveal the mysteries of a film shoot. In fact, these backstage productions merely reveal the futility of films and give a superficial view of the shoot. The heart of it remains a secret." Breillat wishes to move beyond this superficiality, and to reveal what she describes as the "clash behind closed doors". The tensions she exposes, between the director, actors and crew, are at times intriguing. However the nature of the film - which aims at a realistic representation of the process behind the creation of a more obviously fictional world - is such that our expectations of narrative and character are generally not pandered to. So in the end, our experience of the film, of the multi-levelled drama and the humour of the situation, is also tinged with disappointment. Which, perhaps, is exactly what Breillat intended.