(director: Frederic Fonteyne; screenwriter: Philippe Blasband; cinematographer: Virginie Saint-Martin; editor: Chantal Hymans; cast: Nathalie Baye (Elle-Her), Sergi Lopez (Lui-Him), Jacques Viala (Interviewer); Runtime: 78; Fine Line Features; 2000)

“If the film moved off its experimental mode and let us see the couple without the conditions the ground rules imposed on them, this might have been an even much better film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a French romantic story about two strangers living out their fantasy in a Paris hotel on Thursdays for a period of six months. A sensuous woman, Nathalie Baye, in her forties, advertises for a man online for a casual sex affair so that she can fulfill her sexual fantasy. Sergi Lopez is also someone fortysomething, but according to his version he responded to a personal ad in a girlie magazine and sent a letter with his photo which resulted in the two meeting in a bar. In this minimalist told tale, the two are interviewed separately by an unseen Jacques Viala offscreen. He could never get either one of them to reveal the fantasy enacted and what’s more, they sometimes had different impressions about the affair.

Interestingly, this is a very steamy story, but the sex is not explicit. The film is more than anything else a love story about two nameless souls not knowing anything about each other’s lives, but through sex falling in love. Yet they are unable in their six month relationship to find a way to make a declaration of love that sticks.

The story is narrated through the interviewer’s offscreen questions about their relationship. On their first date they meet at a cafe, as each is visibly nervous. They converse casually and then proceed to the hotel across the street and have their first sexual encounter behind closed doors. All the viewer finds out, is that it went OK and they will be meeting again next week. We also see that they are both sensitive, intelligent and respectable people.

The only time we see them in action, the sex is routine and that excites them more than the fantasy she advertised for does. It brings them closer together than they imagined this relationship would be able to do. That lovemaking scene was tactfully done in an intimately passionate way.

But the viewer can only guess at what draws them so close, as their fantasy sex scenes are not shown. The story played more like a gimmick than a real love affair because after their initial encounters, it seemed rather strange that these intelligent people wouldn’t be curious to know more about each other, especially, since they were developing a certain bond together.

The reason this film worked so well was the illuminated performance by Baye, who was 50 at the time of the film but looks much younger. She has such a touching quality about her. There was a great chemistry between her and the introspective, quietly handsome Spanish actor, Lopez. And, if you add to that the mature script by French novelist and playwright Philippe Blasband and the classy way Frederic Fonteyne directed, you can see why the film can be enthralling. What you get is an affair that turns out to be in surprisingly good taste, but without satisfying the more mundane matters in a relationship. It was as if this was a sex lab experiment in which an ideal couple was being tested to see if a purely sexual encounter could spark a more intimate relationship. If the film moved off its experimental mode and let us see the couple without the conditions the ground rules imposed on them, this might have been an even much better film.

The film was originally titled “Une Liaison Pornographique.” It won for Best Film at Venice.