The latest superficial provocation from sex-obsessed Gallic duo Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr, “Sexual Chronicles of a French Family” offers diverting date-night fare for open-minded heterosexual couples and swingers, though its superiority (artistic or otherwise) to actual porn is debatable. In line with the pair’s prior projects, the style is Dogma-esque but the content closer to Zalman King, with softcore titillation pretty much the entire agenda. Nothing wrong with that, though the lack of thematic/emotional depth fails to push the envelope, as have better movies like “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and “Shortbus.” Current U.S. theatrical exposure should butter home-format release.
Hanging its thin narrative on the same hook as umpteen teen sex comedies, albeit with little of their humor, “Chronicles” is told from the p.o.v. of Romain (Mathias Melloul), who’s late-blooming in the sense that he’s just turned 18, is still in a permanent adolescent sulk and remains a virgin (the cause for that sulk). Replicating his classmates’ similar stunts, he uses his cell phone to film himself masturbating in class. But he gets caught, resulting in a suspension and the concern of his parents.
Rather than being upset, mom Claire (Valerie Maes) decides she’s been lax in frankly discussing the issue of sexuality — not just the usual cautionary info about disease prevention and birth control — with the entire family.
That includes Grandpa (Yan Brian), who confesses he’s regularly visited a prostitute since his beloved wife died; Romain’s self-confident sib, Pierre (Nathan Duval), who regularly shares a girlfriend with a guy pal; and adoptive sister Marie (Leila Denio), whose scenes are almost exclusively explicit ones in congress with boyfriend Cedric (Gregory Annoni). While Romain complains early on that “my parents are so normal it gets depressing,” we soon discover they have a fairly adventuresome sex life, too.
Already ludicrous early on, Claire’s Mary Poppins-of-sexual-openness act grows only more so, as she bestows good tidings on everyone from Grandpa’s paid companion (Laetitia Favart) to the classmate/tutor (Adeline Rebeillard) who winds up devirginizing Romain. That extensive latter event seems a deliberate spinoff of an extended-family dinner party.
All this might have been more credible, pointed, funny and even touching if any attention were paid to the characters beyond their sex lives. But in that regard, they’re pretty much blanks on the page, despite adequate (and obviously game) thesp contributions. The two actors playing Pierre’s playmates (Benjamin Houot, Mailys Amrous) don’t even rate character names; nor is there much humor, apart from Melloul’s histrionic moping. While one can appreciate the filmmakers’ message that a sexually liberated, fulfilled family is a healthy and happy one, these people are so devoid of apparent interior life, one might worry their intellectual health is DOA.
Despite all the huffing and humping, there are notable limits to the film’s polysexual embrace. Though by the end he’s proudly announced he’s bisexual, Pierre (who earlier gets a rare moment of smart dialogue when he politely informs Mom that his sex life is none of her business) is never actually seen in physical contact with the other boy in his three-way scenes. And amid a routine design/tech package, Barr and Chris Keohane’s seemingly casual, handheld HD lensing nonetheless exercises the “Austin Powers”-parodied miracle of perpetually stopping a millimeter short of any actual genitalia.