Writer-director Jacques Nolot pulls off a perfect blend of the sordid and artistic in “Glowing Eyes,” a touching, funny and sexually explicit instruction manual on how to cruise, service and be serviced in an adult movie house. Fictional pic, set entirely at the open-air box office and in the auditorium and restroom of a one-screen porn hardtop in Paris, hits and sustains a miraculously matter-of-fact tone brimming with humor and human drama. There’s not a false note in this modest but memorable symphony of needy souls communing with their needs.
Anybody who dislikes the idea of men — straight, gay and every shade in between — receiving sexual release from other men will find the subject matter distasteful. But this is a movie about and for adults that deserves to travel as widely as possible.
Nolot — a thesp whose noteworthy directing debut “The Back Country” played the Cinemas en France sidebar at Cannes in 1998 — has a central role in the well-chosen ensemble cast. He plays an unnamed, fiftysomething fellow who wears a wedding ring that may or may not signal his marital status.
With her broad smile and vivacious personality, Vittoria Scognamiglio is delightful as the cashier who’s seen it all, done it all and assessed it all but still takes an abiding interest in human behavior. Her jaunty, accepting approach to her job and her customers is an ideal counterbalance to the activities in the downstairs theater, which patrons (several of whom are cross-dressers in high heels) reach via a short staircase.
When arriving in the cinema, newcomers always light a match to check the hygiene quotient of a seat before sitting down. The funny but necessary gesture is representative of pic’s singular tone. Anything goes in the dimly lit cinema, but patrons still scramble to zip up or bury their heads and groins in newspapers when the lights unexpectedly go up.
Theater’s functioning is so clearly based on mutual tolerance, unspoken ground rules and a sort of self-policing geometry of desire that nothing could seem sillier than three police officers arriving with flashlights to make sure there’s no hanky-panky going on. Of course there is: It’s the whole point of this seedy outpost, where the action in the room often rivals the action on the screen.
Transvestite hookers, male patrons of all ages, the cashier and the young projectionist from the sticks (Sebastien Viala) tell each other bits and pieces of their personal and sexual histories. Even at their most crass or most poetic, these revelations never feel forced. Everything flows together, helped by the languid, tracking camera that glides up and down the aisles.
Visually, pic is explicit. Both erect and flaccid penises are in evidence, and several sex acts are performed or implied with expedient candor.
Creating a perfectly mastered aura of expectation, writer-helmer Nolot accepts the mystery of the human sex drive, acknowledging the mechanics of arousal and release while quietly celebrating life’s potentially endless variations on the rules of attraction. Whatever floats your boat is fit to be depicted, via words or action.
Film’s French title — literally “The Pussy With Two Heads” — is one of the X-rated features on the cinema’s double bill.