Review: ‘Ennui’

The story of an older guy getting it on with an oversexed, much younger gal is the most overused trick in the Gallic film textbook. It's a credit to helmer Cedric Kahn that he manages to breathe fresh life into the well-worn genre with "Ennui."

The story of an older guy getting it on with an oversexed, much younger gal is the most overused trick in the Gallic film textbook. It’s a credit to helmer Cedric Kahn that he manages to breathe fresh life into the well-worn genre with “Ennui.” Eventually, however, the film becomes as tiresome as the lead character , and the finale is simply self-indulgent. But pic contains plenty of richly comic moments and some fine acting from the leads. “Ennui” is rarely boring and might excite some specialized distribution interest. It is also bound to raise temperatures on the fest circuit.

Kahn’s fourth feature delivers extra helpings of erotic acrobatics — even by French standards — but the real surprise is that there is actually a story here, an engrossing tale of one man’s descent into sexual obsession. In a yarn reminiscent of Claude Chabrol’s 1993 study of extreme jealousy, “L’Enfer,” a philosophy professor, Martin (Charles Berling), sees a sickly-looking sixtysomething painter with a teenage girl, Cecilia (Sophie Guillemin), and is intrigued by the odd couple.

When he shows up at the artist’s studio, he learns the old guy just passed away while having sex with his g.f./model. This has Martin even more interested and, when he meets Cecilia, he begins pestering her with prying, intimate questions about her life with her late lover.

Martin, who separated from his wife six months earlier, happily hops into the sack with Cecilia, and they’re soon in the midst of a passionate affair. They have strange, one-sided conversations in which he asks long, involved questions and she responds in bored, monosyllabic phrases. Cecilia’s blank detachment outside the sexual arena only makes Martin more fixated. When he finds out she’s seeing a man much younger than himself, he goes around the bend emotionally and starts following her everywhere.

Kahn presents this unlikely relationship in a realistic way. It helps that he doesn’t try to make Martin a likable character — he’s condescending and self-important. Much of the comedy in the pic lies in Martin’s almost goofy obsession with this 17-year-old girl; many of the funnier moments have him dashing from phone booth to phone booth trying to keep tabs on Cecilia’s movements.

Pic’s biggest problem is that Kahn and his co-scripters never get anywhere near the roots of this infatuation. The sex, for example, becomes increasingly brutal over the course of the film, and there is never any attempt to show why Martin needs to assault Cecilia or why she likes it so much.

Both thesps come through with strong performances. Berling is good because he manages to make Martin both offensive and somehow compelling; Guillemin, in sharp contrast, is a blank slate, which is entirely appropriate for the character. But the plump actress also has an original charm and sexiness that’s light-years from the look and style of most waiflike French teen sexpots. That allure makes Martin’s obsession plausible.

Pic is almost devoid of music, with the exception of upbeat salsa-esque dance numbers during the opening and closing credits.

Ennui

French

Production

A Gemini Films/Ima Films production in association with Madragoa Filmes and with participation of Canal Plus, CNC. (International sales: Gemini Films, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed by Cedric Kahn. Screenplay, Kahn, Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, Gilles Taurand, based on the novel "La Noia" by Alberto Moravia.

Crew

Camera (color), Pascal Marti; editor, Yann Dedet; sound, Jean-Paul Mugel. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Sept. 6, 1998. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Martin - Charles Berling
Cecilia - Sophie Guillemin
Sophie - Arielle Dombasle
With: Robert Kramer, Alice Grey, Maurice Antoni.
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