In the visually and emotionally frank docu “What if We Talk About Love?,” participants explain how they satisfy their desires and lead fulfilling lives in complete acceptance of themselves and their non-mainstream sexual pursuits. Vet documaker Daniel Karlin manages to inform and give the viewer an eyeful without tipping over into gratuitous voyeurism. A fine addition to fest lineups and specialized tube outlets, pic has been holding its lone Paris screen since opening April 17.
Utter matter-of-factness is jaw-dropping as offscreen interviewer Karlin elicits forthright replies from subjects in four regions of France. There’s a family-oriented husband-and-wife team of swingers well into middle age; a single professional woman who has no qualms about expedient recreational sex; a young married couple with children who integrate extra-conjugal lovers into their wholesome routine; and an eloquent pair of wheelchair-using lovers who wed onscreen, despite the specter of further physical decline.
Wife-swapping and orgies — seen in context and filmed tastefully — emerge as hearty, probably healthy and always consensual alternatives to monogamy. The mellow-voiced Karlin is probing but respectful, sidestepping confessional talkshow-speak as he draws out the details of his subjects’ lives.
Interviewees are neither shy nor exhibitionists. They’re active and productive members of their communities — one runs for public office, another promotes the health benefits of breast feeding — and for them, sex is just one component of a balanced life.
Violette, a 50-year-old nurse’s aide, and retired schoolteacher Bernard, her spouse of 28 years, actively seek out orgy scenarios — with the full knowledge of her co-workers, 84-year-old mother and half-dozen young grandchildren. Violette figures she’s slept with 300-400 people, and Bernard asserts that teachers and healthcare workers are the two most common professions in the wife-swapping world. A scene in which the mellow, rotund Bernard poses his wife and other nude pals in flagrante to create an illustrated personals ad with his still camera borders on the adorable.
Cathy Bouvard, 33, a Lyon journalist and theater scout, relishes no-strings-attached rough encounters with both men and women. Bordeaux computer startup salesman Julien Gamelin and his wife of eight years, Sophie, each take lovers as the urge strikes them, while continuing to be exemplary parents to their three boys. Partially paralyzed lovers Daniel and Karine confirm their commitment to each other in scenes awash with love and affection despite the indignities of assisted living.
Lensing is crisp and thoughtful in the workplace and purposefully murky in the bedroom. There’s not an Adonis or Venus in the crowd — in fact, the interviewees’ far-from-perfect bodies are part of the point. Daniel and Karine, whose city hall wedding wraps pic, are the most memorable and touching participants in this consistently intriguing venture.