Reviewed by GREG KING.
Recently there has been a slew of French films exploring obsessive relationships between men and women (L’Ennui, the controversial Romance, etc) that have left little to the imagination. Despite the provocative and titillating title, however, there’s little that’s explicit, erotic or pornographic about Une Liaison Pornographique (aka A Pornographic Affair), the new film from Belgian director Frederic Fonteyne. Rather, this is an intimate examination of a relationship between a man and a woman that begins as a purely sexual affair and develops into something more romantic.
Veteran French actress Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez (recently seen in Western) play an anonymous man and woman who initially meet through the classified section of a porn magazine. The pair share a sexual fantasy and meet regularly purely for sex, hoping to establish a no-strings attached relationship. However, they begin to develop romantic feelings for each other and the nature of the relationship slowly changes.
Given the nature of the material, Fonteyne directs with great subtlety and unexpected restraint, giving the film an almost playful, teasing quality. He shies away from explicit depictions of sexual activity, preferring to concentrate on the intimacy and emotions that such an affair produces. Fonteyne has stylishly framed the film, with much of the action taking place behind closed doors or seen through doorways and windows. This is almost an exercise in minimalist film making, which may well appeal to some audiences looking for something a little more off beat. We never learn the nature of the “sexual fantasy” that initially draws the couple together, which adds a further intriguing element to the film. The film also unfolds in mock documentary fashion, with the two leads directly addressing an unseen interviewer and reflecting back on their affair and the reasons why it abruptly ended. There are small discrepancies in the tale they tell, but that adds to the realism and the insightful nature of the film. This structure also deliberately provides the audience with three perspectives on the affair – that of the two protagonists, and that of the audience, who also bring their own expectations and personal baggage to the film.
Baye and Lopez strike a superb balance in their revealing roles, and deliver natural performances that elevate the emotional resonance of Phillipe Blasband’s script.
But ultimately, there is little here that we haven’t seen before in some form or another over the past couple of years. Indeed, many within the audience may find Une Liaison Pornographique boring, and it will certainly disappoint the “raincoat brigade”. However, admirers of French cinema will find this a film to cherish and enjoy.