Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 10/14/04 03:19:31

"Let’s Talk About Sex, Emmanuelle"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2004 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Just as I was bashing those poor Frenchies for treating sex as some healthy frathouse parlor game, along comes a thoughtful dissection on adultery. Too often the Sixth Commandment is played up for cheap thrills in either the suspense or skin departments. Melodrama is its ugly cousin just lurking around the corner for the big confrontation or scenes where the man and woman can yell at the top of their lungs how horrible the other species is. Glenn Close and Diane Lane have tried winning Oscars like that. They could actually learn something from the Frenchies responsible for Nathalie.

We learn two very important life lessons as the film opens. (1) Never plan a surprise party if you have to depend on someone making their flight on time (especially Ted Airlines) and (2) Never leave a message on a married man’s cell phone, particularly with the line “we had good sex.” Catherine (Fanny Ardant) learns the hard way when she snoops on hubby’s messages and confronts him about it. Bernard (Gerard Depardieu), as cool as Eddie Murphy in Raw explains “it doesn’t count.” Catherine, seeming more annoyed than hurt, would rather they talk about the affair (or affairs). At least then they would have something to talk about.

Out alone one evening, she walks into a strip club and strikes up a conversation with Marlene (Emmanuelle Beart), a wannabe beautician by day and prostituting stripper by night. Catherine hires her to randomly meet Bernard and see if he takes the bait. She even gives her a character name, Nathalie, because she believes her husband would like the name better. The ruse backfires when on the second encounter, Marlene jumps into bed with Bernard, or as she tells it “jumped on me like he hadn’t done it in years.”

This certainly wasn’t Catherine’s plan, but now she has the opportunity to learn even more about her husband. Marlene has even taken to playing with her alter-ego and things that she would or wouldn’t do. Through her sexy and progressively more explicit conversations about their trysts, the more uneasy and yet liberated Catherine feels. She’s not uncomfortable with the language. She just can’t believe her husband would talk like that.

Nathalie is like the Cosmopolitan version of an affair; all talk. It’s told only from the point of view of Catherine and what Marlene reveals. Bernard’s escapades are never glorified for titillation. We never even see them, turning him into a pathetic puppy dog that must want to hump everything in sight. Ardant, Beart and Depardieu bring more to the table than just sorrow and inquisition. They each share an attitude about sex that is expressed in more than just their words.

Suspicion and insecurity are dangerous weapons to be wielding within a marriage. To look at your spouse and know what’s going on can be less painful than THINKING you know what’s going on. Nathalie deals with the impleasantries of sexual behavior without submitting to the level of cheap softcore theatrics. It tries to cram too much into its final minutes, desperately trying to close all storylines and finding the right note to scroll over. But it avoids the big clichés and tries to deal with sophistication rather than succumbing to America’s have-and-eat-too appetite. Maybe there is something to be learned from the French after all.

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