What goes around comes around in “Pleasure (and Its Little Inconveniences),” a narrative roundelay in seven segments during which eight characters seek to appease their loneliness and live — or die — with the consequences. Intellectually ambitious but uneven in execution, helmer and co-scripter Nicolas Boukhrief’s sophomore outing aims to evoke strong emotions, but fails about as often as it succeeds. Strong lineup of thesps, however, may translate into some offshore sales.
Boukhrief, whose debut pic, “Up Yours” (1995), also observed self-destructive behavior, is interested in filming acts of expedient sex: His characters seek to release tension, but their emotional disarray is never calmed for long. Pic relies strongly on the notion that just when you think you’ve got it made, fate can cut you down to size.
Lady-killer Michael (Vincent Cassel) — whose character lurks and reoccurs in at least two other segs — strangles a woman before the opening credits. Pic then takes a fresh starting point, after which one character from each episode pulls the narrative forward, linked via sex to a new character a la Schnitzler’s “Reigen” (“La Ronde”).
Moments after a visit to a prostitute, French soldier Raphael (Francis Renaud) is severely injured in a bomb blast and lands in a hospital somewhere in Central Europe. Given to masturbating with the only limb he can move, Raphael falls for his attentive nurse, Vera (Julie Gayet).
Vera is engaged to a struggling standup comic, Roland (Mathieu Kassovitz), back in Paris. Roland befriends a distraught older woman, Helene (Caroline Cellier), in the metro one night. Helene meets up in Italy with her Italian husband, Carlo (Michele Placido), who is impotent except when driven to jealousy by a younger man, deaf-mute Rocco (Andrea Coftis). In one of pic’s longest stretches, Carlo has sex with jovial young con artist Marcel (Foued Nassah), who takes him club-hopping and sates the older man’s senses with drugs.
Marcel moves on to the apartment of his sister, Lise (Florence Thomassin), a gentle soul who acts in porn films for a living. Circumstances conspire for her to meet Michael — who admires women’s mouths and has plans for blocking their windpipes.
Although the occasional touch of humor is in evidence (a baby in need of changing materializes just as a couple are about to mate; a photo spread in a magazine reveals the fate of two characters from a previous episode), exchanges tend toward the melancholy and sinister. Thesps are convincing — which is not always the same thing as interesting — although Thomassin, as a modern-day Lulu, is particularly good.
Sound design, like the lensing, is apt and inventive in some places but aggressively artsy or just plain overbearing in others.