Friday, 12 August 2011

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The Pornographer [Review]


Opinion: B

Much as this film's titillating title suggests, there's elements of explicit pornographic filmmaking documented especially in the first half that instills a different perspective to how the pornography industry is often viewed upon. With a nonchalant attitude within every cast and crew of a pornographic shoot, it dawns upon us how well Director Bertrand Bonello has handled the delicate taboo material and portrayed it in a different light. Admittedly the pornography element engulfs one very easily, it is all but a metaphor used to depict film if you can see past the lustful veil.


Jacques Laurent was a well known pornographer back in the 70s. Today, because of financial difficulties, he decides to start shooting porn films again. A number of years earlier, his son Joseph abruptly left home after finding out what his father did for a living. Time has passed. Today Joseph is seventeen years old and father and son meet again. While Jacques is wondering how to finish his life, Joseph is trying to give direction to his.


The Pornographer (a.k.a. Le Pornographe) might own an obscene sounding title, but this film had been previously selected for the 2001 International Critics' Week at Cannes Film Festival and eventually went on to win the FIPRESCI Prize. Notably, Bonello's latest film House of Tolerance was recently nominated for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

I hope this changed your first impression of this film after reading the above.

Now then, what makes this blatantly titled film worthy a look at? From the opening till the first hour of the film, intriguingly there's a fairly well-documentation of the filmmaking process of a typical erotic film. While it revolves around shooting people performing explicit acts of erotica, what stuns me is my observation of how every single cast and crew appears to be nonchalant at their jobs.

It just felt like they're at any other ordinary job weary from routine.

Yes, much as how everyone tends to view the adult film industry as somewhat of a fantasy, these people seems to be sick of it. There isn't a single notion of joy in what they are doing. Maybe this is professionalism, but it is somewhat disturbing to us outsiders nevertheless.

Bonello excels in handing this extremely sensitive film material at hand and he masterfully captured scenes of erotica and turned them into a storytelling film instead of a pornography documentary. It could have easily become some kind of a joke or comedy with such a premise - an old-timer pornographer returns to shoot some more porn (sounds like one of those teenage crude comedies we have these days), but no. In order to create a sense of realism, Bonello used an actual French adult actress (Ovidie) and brought his film closer to conviction.

Bonello made pornography a serious matter for his audience.

If you do actually digest the film's sexual elements as a mere theme, you might realise how Bonello has tried to create a metaphor for film out of the erotica. In the film, a past glory pornographer returns to making pink films in order to make ends meet. Jacques Laurent returns to only find to his disappointment how the industry has changed drastically. Not only are his methods and directions deemed non-arousing to the perverse demands of today's sex-craving pornography consumers, he realises that the soul of filmmaking is lost.

In Laurent's mind, making pornography is no different from making films.

But this has changed, as most of us know of today's definitions of pornography - distastefully produced for the primary purpose of sexual arousal.

When we take a step back and view this scenario objectively (I know, it's difficult when you have sex on screen), it does resemble how films in the contemporary French cinema is no longer the same as those a couple of decades back. Perhaps Bonello as a filmmaker is trying to make his stand clear about the evolving trends in filmmaking as well as the industry. An easy analogy would be how Planet of the Apes made in 1968 would still be viewed as a completely different film when compared to the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Times have changed.

Despite featuring some interesting metaphoric play with pornography, I just don't see why it has to be pornography and not something else. Perhaps there is an intended reason behind it, say to replicate the notion of how primatal lust has eradicated the need for any artistic values to be in pornographic works.

Is a pornographer, like any film director, an artist?

The second half begins to place its focus away from the erotica and racks closer towards Laurent and his son. His son's character insertion in this film remains somewhat questionable as it didn't seem to fit into any greater purpose, but I did notice how his friends decided to go on a silent protest.

Maybe Bonello wanted to express how silly people are to remain in silence when they really don't approve of the current situation. Actions speak louder than words.

Wait, maybe that's the reason why Bonello chose pornography- actions speak louder than words.


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