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Movie Reviews

The School Of Flesh  

The French have an unusual manner when it comes to making movies on unusual, potentially controversial relationships. Unlike the presentation in, say, "Jerry Springer", many French movie depictions treat the subject in a casual, natural way: such events are normal, and while we may not understand exactly why a particular person engages in such a relationship, that individual is not necessarily freakish because of it.

I say this because a die-hard fan of Springer would probably go for this movie upon hearing its description (and the title), but on viewing it, subtitles or not, would be bored to death. As with many French films, The School of Flesh is very dry and mannered. Nothing particularly shocking ever actually happens. Life just goes on, as real life should, and the people involved merely stumble about their clumsy way, as all people in the midst of a relationship do. And this relationship also is put to the test of whether it will last or not.

Isabelle Huppert stars as a 40-ish middle-class divorcee, who on a whim agrees to go with her girlfriend to a club which entertains a mostly gay clientele. She then sees the person who possesses unexplainable allure in her eyes. The man is the bartender, a young 20-ish man who has a very experienced and harsh lifestyle. He apparently moonlights as a male hustler in order to pay the bills, although it seems apparent that he is not gay. In fact, as the movie continues, it doesn`t seem as if he`s committed to much of anything except the almighty dollar. This doesn`t stop Huppert, however, who in a mixture of lust, curiosity, and pity, becomes involved in his life. On their first night, she sees his pitifully cramped apartment, and insists he move in with her. Her belief is that by doing this, she will set him straight and on the road to a more prosperous, meaningful life. She attempts to get him a job with the modelling agency she represents. She even goes so far as to pay his debts to some shady characters.

A person who wants to help a seemingly hopeless individual is obviously one with deep mental, emotional and financial resources, but even such a selfless person has struggles while fulfilling this charitable task. This is shown quite nicely in an early scene where the man, on his first "date" with Huppert`s character, takes her to an arcade (How romantic!!). He constantly tries to master the motor racing game, while the woman is noticeably restless. What is she doing having a tawdry affair with this kid? Twice, she walks out of the arcade, but both times she returns. She is obviously drawn back to him, either through compulsion or plain sympathy. Or maybe both. It could easily be both, because while it`s true she wants him to have a life as respectable as her own social class, it is also true that this is also a sexual adventure. Here is this 40 year old woman, shacking up with a mysterious younger man. And while they`re not very graphic, the sex scenes tell you that she certainly gets some satisfaction from their encounters.

This is an interesting film, although its dryness can perhaps be a bit too dry at times. The film also has been criticzied by some as being too cold in its performances, especially Huppert`s. But I don`t think so. This is not a "typical" relationship, so the characters couldn`t react in a standard way. This is not a story of two lovers overcoming obstacles, but two very unique adults who have their own unique feelings and reactions to what they are doing. And I like the idea of such characters being treated not as freaks, but as normal people. A lot of regular people would probably have had some imagining of an unusual experience. And a lot of regular people have probably had an unusual experience. I could tell you about my own peculiar relationship with a woman I got together with over the Internet...... but I better stop myself. This is a movie review, not a tell-all talk show.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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