Updated: Aug 26, 2020
Written and Directed by: #Alexandre David Lejuez
Film Review by: #Andrew Stooke
Appearing ten minutes in, and scrolling unusually slowly, the opening credits set a gentle pace for this epic cinematic poem. It is an auteur work. Alexandre David Lejuez arranges some of the music on the soundtrack as well as acting and directing. Imagine the acid trip sequence from Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969) decelerated from four grainy minutes to an operatic duration. The action concerns an unnamed flaneur or drifter, played by Lejuez. He encounters an anonymous woman, his long-term dramatic collaborator Eva Langlet, and they hookup. The movie smooths out the teasing anticipation, panting haste, and accelerating rhythm of the sex scene. It renders it a protracted grope, like the mating of tortoises. Then, as in a road-movie, when the sex is done, it's bye baby—this guy is a rolling stone.
It is not an easy film to place. Despite having sex as its main subject it has nothing in common with the flatly lit athletic performances of pornography. Equally, it eschews the tradition of erotic art cinema, such as Nagisa Oshima’s intensely intimate Ai no korīda (In the realm of the Senses 1976), Tinto Brass's boudoir romps, or Catherine Breillat's testing of limits. The film's aesthetic rolls back to La Nouvelle Vague and 16mm experimental movies of the 1960s. The blanket use of dust and scratch filters disturbs, and sometimes annoys, what is already dark and murky. Several scenes pick up on Andy Warhol's Blow Job (1964). In a single 35-minute take Warhol's film shows a headshot. An actor who, from the implication of the title, is receiving fellatio from someone out of the frame. Several moments in ‘Erotic’ use the same device. Headshots, sometimes with the man and woman framed side by side, impugn the couple's amorous unity. It is never convincing. The woman's voice-over affirms her belief in 'passionate love and happiness,' but there is little evidence of passionate abandon in scenes where the couple cling together on a bouncy and creaky bed. Their clothes get rucked up, but they keep them on, even their shoes. As in Warhol's movie, sex is inferred.
The film opens with stills, fine-art images of sexualised women, highlighting Renoir and Corbet's penchant for the buxom, bawdy 18th-century cartoons, as well as explicit traditional Japanese "Shunga" wood-cut prints. These are saturated with a rose-coloured filter, intimating red-light districts, brothels, and prostitutes. The allusion to contracted sex work, combined with sequences tying male masturbation to voyeuristic pleasure, presents men’s desire as enacted irrespective of emotional affinity. Orgasm, when it comes, is the discharge of the real woman in favour of a fantasy image. A dizzying psychedelic vortex seems to represent a hypnotic cleansing. It is accompanied by the man's soliloquy in a Baudelairian voice-over, 'I'm alone. Alone with the brave melodies of love.' The man is indeed next encountered alone. He is on a beach where black waves break in a yawning rhythm. He stumbles forward as if sleepwalking. Was the sex just his dream? His private erotic imaginings sublimate desire for the messy complexity of real sex, coupling, and sensual intimacy. This theme reverberates in the soundtrack, where discrete analogue electronics play classical compositions without the symbiotic relation of ensemble instrumentalists.
In the end, the woman too is isolated, separated, presumably wondering where her desire fits in.
This is only chapter one. Perhaps chapter two will depict sex as a more collaborative arrangement. 'Chapter One' is a philosophical reflection, a movie for people who have watched hearts and bodies lost to carnal impulses, but wish to think, as well as to feel pleasure.
EROTIC - Chapter One: Desire & Sensuality' is available on the UK Film Channel.