With a title like “Sexual Chronicles of a French Family,” it is one that is supposed to inspire a few things inside of you, namely titillation, desire and curiosity. It is indeed a very thought-provoking title and subject matter but does it go any further than that. Does it inform us of our basic animal needs to explore and reproduce? More importantly, does it inform us of our human aspects of love and loyalty? With faint praise, the answer is sort of.
The story chronicles a family on the French countryside as they deal with their interpersonal sexual desires. As cut and dry as the title suggests, the film doesn’t go deep enough to inform us as to that much. The family’s youngest son, Romain (Mathias Melloul), is coming of age (no pun intended) as he is caught masturbating in his biology class. He makes a bet with his girlfriend, Claire (Valérie Maës), to do the same but she wasn’t caught. Their principal suspends Romain and he is forced to stay at home for a few days. His family goes on their own form of sexual explorations whether it is his parents dealing with Romain’s mother’s infidelities, his brother’s bi-sexuality or grandfather’s relationship with his long-term prostitute, Nathalie (Laetitia Favart).
It’s not a very long movie at all, with a running time that is less than 80 minutes, “Sexual Chronicles of a French Family” is far too surface level for its subject matter. We get character development in its sex scenes, which there are plenty. Almost half of the movie is made up of sex scenes, not to be served as pornography but rather as a gateway to intimacy, pleasure and curiosity. The narrative arcs are told in these scenes but what bogs the film down are the scenes in-between, as they are too on the nose to gain any sense of realism or character information.
As it stands, the most interesting aspects of this film deal with Romain and Claire’s budding relationship. Starting off with being very playful and overly friendly but then evolving into curiosity and passion. Their relationship turns into love as Romain explains to the audience, “She’s not the one but she is the first one.” This is a telling view of this relationship that shouldn’t be told to the audience through a voiceover but should be told in their interactions, conversations and sex. Claire confesses to Romain that she has already been with an older man but with him it feels like the real first time. This is a moment that is very sincere and poignant and gives the audience a hint of her character and mindset. It’s a good touch!
Take a movie like Michael Winterbottom’s “9 Songs,” a film that is completely all sex, but the difference is how Winterbottom tells the story of a young relationship between these two lovers. Their relationship is entirely about sex and rock n’ roll, ergo the movie is entirely about sex and rock n’ roll. But if you pay attention to the couple’s sex, it informs the audience where this relationship or fling is going. It starts off with unbridled passion and devolves into simply routine. “Sexual Chronicles of a French Family” has no rhyme or reason with the portrayal of sex as it relates to the family narrative or drama. It almost feels random when it should feel well guided.
“Sexual Chronicles of a French Family” is not pornography. It’s art! But the art is to some extent minor and yet it should be admired for pushing the boundaries of storytelling, cinema and sex. It’s an interesting piece but falters in the climax and is somewhat unsatisfying.
Title: Sexual Chronicles of a French Family
Directors: Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr
Cast: Mathias Melloul, Valérie Maës and Stephan Hersoen