'Fair Sex'

A Quebec film school graduate takes her camera to the traveling amusement park where she has a summer job in "Fair Sex," by Canuck scribe-helmer Martin Laroche ("Modernaire").

A Quebec film school graduate takes her camera to the traveling amusement park where she has a summer job in “Fair Sex,” by Canuck scribe-helmer Martin Laroche (“Modernaire”). But instead of shooting the planned workplace docu, the Africa-born protag, portrayed with touching naturalness by Marie-Evelyne Lessard, discovers the camera allows her to create the distance she needs to examine the darker nooks of her own sex life and personality. Though the first-person shakycam gimmick is starting to feel a bit stale, the pic’s sincere treatment of the literal and metaphorical scars of genital mutilation should help it travel.

Sophie (Lessard) is an apparently outgoing 25-year-old who looks after an amusement-park stand by day and has fun with her colleagues by night. Besides the sensitive Normand (Normand Daoust), a much older food vendor, most of Sophie’s itinerant co-workers are her age. They include her trailer mate, Genevieve (Stephanie Dawson), who’s responsible for the park’s kiddie ride; Genevieve’s b.f., Guillaume (Alexandre Dubois), who mans the Ferris wheel; and cute Frederic (Marc-Andre Brunet), who has his own trailer where they all often hang out after hours.

Initially asked by management to document and interview the people who work there, Sophie, who studied film, uses her camera as a shield while shooting off all sorts of questions, including very personal ones, such as when she sits down with Frederic and interrogates him about the one-night stand he had the day before.

It emerges that Sophie, who is seen giving her first blowjob before the opening credits, has a strange love/hate relationship with sex. As she allows the camera into her private life and eventually turns it into a confessional, it becomes clear why: Sophie suffered genital mutilation as a little girl in Africa, before she moved to Quebec, making intercourse extremely difficult and painful for her.

The big reveal, which comes in an impressive, minutes-long interview that Genevieve conducts with Sophie, is treated with tact, and explains the pic’s necessarily easygoing and fairly explicit attitude toward sex. And though he’s tackling an extremely serious subject, helmer Laroche manages to keep things relatively light by focusing on Sophie’s generally sunny disposition and the continuous banter of her colleagues.

While it can be seen coming from miles away that the protag has been developing feelings for one of her co-workers, the way she goes about her healing process, getting over her fears in order to be fully intimate with him, is at once shocking and shockingly logical.

Lessard, a singer and actress who’s done a little TV and theater work, is a real find, and makes believable the very personal pain and problems of her otherwise spontaneous character. Of the other thesps, Brunet is the standout, particularly in a beautifully observed scene in which Frederic comes to check up on his friend to make sure she’s OK. Laroche also coaxes naturalistic perfs from the rest of the small cast.

After self-producing his first two films on budgets of just a couple thousand dollars, the helmer had institutional backing for this third feature, but continues to adopt a very loose, low-budget style that enhances the story’s veracity. Though the camera-as-confessional device has by now been done to death, it feels justifiable for a film with this intimate a subject and outlook.

Fair Sex

Canada

Production

A K Films Amerique release and presentation of a Prods. Sisyphe production in association with Telefilm Canada. Produced by Patricia Diaz, Sebastien Croteau. Executive producer, Martin Laroche. Directed, written by Martin Laroche.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Felix Tetreault; editor, Catherine Legault; music, Thomas Hellman; production designer, Valerie-Jeanne Mathieu; costume designer, Caroline Bodson; sound, Yann Cleary; associate producer, Sinan Saber; assistant director, Saber. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Forum of Independents), June 30, 2012. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Marie-Evelyne Lessard, Marc-Andre Brunet, Normand Daoust, Stephanie Dawson, Alexandre Dubois, Michel Vezina, Alexandre Castonguay. (French dialogue)

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