“I asked myself, why was it so difficult to name a Quebecois film from the past 25 years that treated sexuality as its central theme?” Côté told Variety. “Why could France foster directors who filmed the human body in direct and unselfconscious ways, and Quebec could not? Were Quebecois more prudish than others?”
And so the Montreal-based filmmaker started on his 14th feature, which follows three so-called “hypersexual” women, plagued with troubled histories and fragile mental states, as they participate in a month-long therapy retreat. But as he developed the script with a local sexologist, the filmmaker saw potential traps in two very different directions.
“The film could never be meant to judge,” Côté explained. “I didn’t want to present certainties and make false promises. Cinema is about making your way in the dark, so by the end you’re supposed to realize there are no real answers to these problems — if they’re even problems at all.”
And in his effort to separate sexual compulsion from clinical pathology, the filmmaker didn’t want to go too far in the other direction as well. “The film is a celebration of all forms of sexuality,” Côté continued, “But it never says, hey check this out in a kind of Lars von Trier way. The goal isn’t to be prudish, hesitant or proud; it’s just to show without guiding.”
“I call this film an anti-porno,” added actor Larissa Corriveau. “It’s realist and not eroticized; it doesn’t idealize.
“By pornography, I don’t just mean the commodification of the body,” Corriveau continued. “I mean our whole society, which expects us to perform our own intimacy. This film does the opposite. We think the characters are baring their souls, but in the end we realize that we’ll never crack that mystery.”
Star of Côté’s two previous Berlin-selected features, “Ghost Town Anthology” and “Social Hygiene,” Corriveau boarded this latest project early on, preparing a year ahead of schedule for a scene of Japanese rope bondage while letting herself feel her way through a number of set-piece monologues pretty much live on film.
“The film lays a trap,” Corriveau said. “Sexuality became a pretext. We talk about it, but little is actually shown. And even when we do share that intimacy we can’t really pretend to know them.”
And in terms of the film’s more graphic sequences, Côté credited the near ubiquity of digital flesh with easing the shoot.
“Today we’re only two clicks away from all kinds of cheap thrills,” Côté explained. “It ennobled the film. There was a total absence of perversion or excitement on set. We weren’t filming anything people hadn’t seen before.
“Over the years, a lot of directors have treated the subject [in a more lecherous ways,]” he continued. “They used the film to serve their desires. But if I want sex I know where to find it. Why use a budget of $2.4 million to service those needs?
“You can’t try to force a male perspective,” said Côté, who brought new voices into the mix, including actor and editor Dounia Sichov. “Working with a female editor helped. I didn’t need another man’s opinion. I wanted women’s input. I wanted the perspectives I couldn’t have.
“We try to stay responsible with the subject, we’re not trying to provoke,” he added. “But I don’t think you can do much with sex as provocation anymore. We didn’t shoot tons and tons of explicit scenes, because in the moment you think about it and say, ‘Who cares? It wouldn’t shock anyone but a 15-year-old boy.’
“In the end,” he says with a laugh, “We’re just another Quebecois film that skirts the issue of sexuality!”