Posted April 10, 2012 by D. K. Holm
Many viewers have noted how for the most part sex has dried up on the American film screen. We can cut up a woman but we can’t cuddle with her; we can punch a man to death in a boxing ring but not inspire a petite mort. There are numerous boring reasons for this, not the least of which is the MPAA and its inconsistent and nanny-state overseeing of what is permissible, and the self-censorship of the filmmakers, who infantalize the viewing public as if HBO or Showtime didn’t exist. Occasionally, though, European films such as Shame and now Four Lovers sneak into the arena.
Rachel (Marina Foïs) is a jeweler. She is married to the Moroccan-French Franck (Roschdy Zem), afeng shui expert. Rachel hires the tattooed Vincent (Nicolas Duvauchelle) to design her firm’s website. Vince brings his wife to dinner with the other couple, the French-American former Olympic athlete Teri (Elodie Bouchez). While giving Teri a back rub, Franck slips in a passionate kiss. Meanwhile, Vincent and Rachel have also already made it clear that they are into each other. Their various kids don’t matter. The two couples swap mates for sexual liaisons, while maintaining a civilized friendship, à la française.
There is lots of sex and group nudity in Antony Cordier’s film, which he wrote with one Julie Peyr. They swim, they frolic in some flour in a barn or bakery. They leap into each others beds or onto couches. Franck is stoic. Vincent likes it rough, with some piston thrusts that would get the film an NC-17 rating in the United States, and some face slapping, which turns on Rachel. Eventually Rachel pops in for a quickie with Teri – while the two men remain stiffly prophylactic. What’s also missing among the couple is a whole lot of talk.
The viewer isn’t sure how this arrangement came into existence. And for most of the film we don’t know what they believe about it. Chatter only erupts when Teri comes upon Rachel’s diary, a hoary old device, a variation of which Bergman used way back inPersona, and while lights the fuse of disaster. The only other gabbers are various extended family members who evoke the Bible and make everyone feel guilty. If Eric Rohmer had directed the picture, there would have been enough talk to soft boil any number of hard ons.
Though the players are physically attractive and presented in what goes for realism in French festival cinema – effortless jobs, delightful kids, lots of eating al fresco – it’s hard to grok how these conventional bourgeois couples slipped into polyamory, or swinging, or wife swapping, whichever it is meant to be. As a quartet they certainly aspire to make swinging seem attractive, when the reality is all too often that a fat bald guy bored with his wife pressures her to go to swinger parties where he is a nuisance and she looks emotionally defeated. Or the deal is that the attractive half of a couple “needs” to be polygamous, while the unattractive half puts up with it for the sake of an emotionally sterile relationship. Those who can, do, while those who can’t … read. Anyway, the film rejects any form of intellectualizing or quantifying, while still managing to be moralistic and conservative about the subject. There may be a case to be made for polyamory, but Four Lovers isn’t that.
Four Lovers (also known as Happy Few) opens at the Living Room theater on Friday, April 13, 2012.