Film 2020: Sexual Chronicles of a French Family

It’s alright, I expect many of you to have raised your eyebrows at the title of this week’s film. And I expect many of you to be wondering why I’ve chosen this film, and on the level of curiosity, you might well be right. But Sexual Chronicles of a French Family (whose original title translates literally as ‘Sexual Chronicles of a Family Today’) was at least intended to be a serious film, and not just a sex romp.

Whilst watching, I was planning a line to say that you can tell that the film is meant to be serious by what it doesn’t show: breasts, yes, bums, yes, anything frontal, haddaway and get to the Internet, man. But that was before I read that the French original does include scenes of nudity and explicit sex, for which porn actresses were hired to relieve the actual stars, which would justify the box’s warnings that the film ‘Contains Strong Sex’. The north American version cuts it out and that’s clearly the print I’ve watched today: no wonder the film’s a relatively brief 75 minutes, including lengthy credits.

The story is introduced by Romain (Mathias Melloul), newly turned eighteen and miserable and whiney about not having had sex when the national average is below that (and, I was surprised to learn, the age of consent in France is 15). It’s as instantly difficult to sympathise with Romain as it is easy to understand why he’s a sexual reject at such an advanced age.

Romain’s mood is not helped by the belief that everyone around him is having it off interminably. Everyone around him consists of his parents, Herve (Stephen Hersoen) and Claire (Valeries Maes), his older brother Pierre (Nathan Duval) and his older adopted sister Marie (Leila Denio, an actual porn actress), all of whom are, indeed, having fulfilling sex lives, as we will, during the course of the film, observe. The only one Romain excludes from this file (Claire is an assistant at a law firm, used to putting matters into files, so this becomes a running gag, gag here being a word meaning that you wish someone would in relation to Romain) is Granpa Michel (Yan Brian), Herve’s widowed father, and even he;s scoring twice a month.

So, we’re put off by Romain, who is in all respects a wanker, a literal one too. That’s how things start, when he’s caught masturbating in biology class, and filming it on his mobile phone. Romain is suspended from school but gets to go back sooner than expected when it transpires that it’s a dare: everyone, boy and girl, is expected to do this and film it and send it to Coralie (Adeline Rebeillard) to be rated.

Before this happens, Claire is summoned to school. Romain’s misdemeanour becomes the stone thrown into a pool, the ripples of which are the story. Instead of dragging him home by the ear and sticking her youngest son under a cold shower for 24 hours, Claire is a liberally minded mother with an open, honest and non-prurient belief that everyone is entitled to a happy and fulfilling sex-life, as of right (newsflash: no-one gets a sex-life as of right without paying for it: as always, it takes two to make a choice of each other).

So, since no-one ever talks about sex, Claire decides to talk about sex.

Her first port of call is Michel. It’s five years since Mireille passed (this is definitely North American sub-titling) and she was the love of his life but he still needs sex, so every fortnight he visits Nathalie (Laetitia Favart), a local prostitute. It’s ideal: he doesn’t need to chitchat (as we will see when Granpa’s turn comes round and neither of them says a word to each other in an almost comic fashion).

Pierre makes it plain to his mother that he is happy with his sex-life, and that’s all she’s going to get out of him, but we know he’s into bisexual threesomes. Maria doesn’t get asked anything but we see her at it in several instances. As for Claire and Herve, the one thing I will praise the film for is that when it shows an intense scene between them, immediately followed by Maria and her bartender boyfriend, without a word being said the two scenes convey the difference between a longstanding, loving relationship lit by all the experiences of two people together, when sex is making love, and an enthusiastic shag.

Ultimately, Romain breaks his duck with the gorgeous and unconventional Coralie (her bag is filming things). This is achieved by the pair openly walking out of Michel’s birthday party to go to Romain’s room with the uimplied approval of everyone. This is the longest scene of all, mainly because it’s meant to depict Romain’s inexperience and uncertainty, and contrast it with her self-confidence, but the scene has the misfortune to come at that exact point in the ‘story’ where all this softest-core stuff is starting to get boring, besides, beautiful as Adeline Rebeillard is, I still prefer Valerie Maes.

So, will entering into sexual maturity transform Romain? You must be joking: apart from the fact he smiles now, he’s still the same little shit he’s been all along. The film jumps a year at this point. Earlier, Michel had welcomes his daughter-in-law’s enquiries about his sex-life because he was embarrassed about the possibility of conking out on the job with Nathalie and is happy now she’s prepared for the possibility.

And guess what? It’s Michel’s funeral party, family, bedfellows and Nathalie only, absorbed into the family, welcomed open-armed by Claire, and proving to be a nice, happy lady, who just likes sex (Claire approves enthusiastically).

As for Romain, it’s off to the bedroom with Coralie and her camera for some unedifying chat meant to typify teenagers d’aujordhui, though for their sakes I hope it doesn’t. And we finish on some risible guff from the little shit about Coralie not being The One (ah, romance!) but always being The First One, which, short of any major temporal displacement, is an unarguable but decidedly trite fact.

The truth is, I cannot remember what brought the film to my attention and what made me think it would be worth a Sunday morning lie-in. It’s a loose assemblage of encounters that, in its uncut original, is apparently the most explicit film ever released outside form, but even with all that stuff restored would not disguise the fact that it has no real point of view, no actual story and, as a psychological portrait of any of its cast, it’s a load of bollocks. Neither Maes nor Rebeillard can raise the film’s head above water.

Which is a shame. What began with a French film on a January Sunday morning nearly three years ago ends with a French film. There are none left, neither on DVD or download. There are, of course, films out there but none I can think of that I want to watch and blog.

So I want to thank the audience that’s checked in to this ritual. I’ve enjoyed the routine of starting the day with a film and will definitely miss it but I always knew that one day I’d reach the finish and have to find something else to do. Thank you for listening, one and all.

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