(director: Benoit Jacquot; screenwriter: Jacques Fieschi/based on the novel “Nikutai no Gakko” by Yukio Mishima; cinematographer: Caroline Champetier; editor: Luc Barnier; cast: Isabelle Huppert (Dominique), Vincent Martinez (Quentin), Vincent Lindon (Chris), Marthe Keller (Madame Thorpe), Danièle Dubroux (Marine Thorpe), Francois Berleand (Soukaz); Runtime: 110; Stratosphere Entertainment; 1998-France)

“What goes for dialogue was totally forgettable, or regrettable, or whatever…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Adapted from a novel by Yukio Mishima, The School of Flesh tries to get us to believe in the sexual relationship and power play between a wealthy middle-aged Parisian woman in the fashion business, Dominique (Huppert), and a youthful hustler, Quentin (Martinez). She falls madly in love with the much younger, Arabic boxer, bartender and bisexual, and is willing to pay him to live with her. His great sex is supposed to be the reason she loses control of herself and can’t be without him and will do anything for him, even as he acts nasty towards her and they have nothing in common that they can talk about only sharing in an animal-like lust. This is asking a lot to believe; and, though, it is possible, it would have been more possible to believe if Quentin possessed some charm or something about him that would give us a clue that he was such a good catch, because he sure couldn’t act; and, since he is the focal point of all the attention, able to have his way with either men or women, we should also have felt this electricity generated onscreen instead of being force fed by the director into believing something was happening when we couldn’t see it.

Just what was supposed to be so compelling about this relationship is hard for me to say, since I didn’t see anything that was compelling about it. I tended to drift in and out of the story and just enjoyed watching the film for the street scenes of Paris in the background, which I found to be more pleasurable viewing than the movie itself. This is being said by a big fan of Isabelle Huppert, whom I usually find to be quite engaging in the various roles she has played during her long film career. In this film, it is just embarrassing for me to watch her vacuous performance.

We first see Dominque pick Quentin up in the gay bar he is working at, after several intense eye contacts. A former gay lover of his and manager of the fashionable gay bar where he works, Chris (Lindon), explains him to Dominque, telling her how treacherous and violent and exploitative Quentin is. But this does not stop this ill-conceived relationship from taking place. The new lovers spend a night together. But first we see the two locked in a power struggle to see who is boss. She takes him to a fancy restaurant which he pretends not to like; and then, he takes her to the arcades, which she honestly detests. This culminates in a night of lovemaking, where sex is acclaimed as the sole keeper of the relationship; in fact, the sex is so good that he refuses payment for it. But she insists on keeping him on her payroll, not willing to take the chance of losing such a good catch. The only problem with this is that we didn’t see how good the sex was, we had to take the word of the actors that it was so good.

What goes for dialogue was totally forgettable, or regrettable, or whatever; and their love for each other was not passionate or credible or pleasant to watch: It was just cold.

Once Quentin is paid for, that is, his so-called debts are paid off by Dominque to Chris, the story limply moves along into some subplot about wealthy friends of Dominque’s meeting Quentin through Dominque. What results is that Quentin marries their spoiled daughter with her parents’ approval. That was unconvincingly done, and just further tarnished an already tarnished story.

There is one line from Quentin that summed up how I really felt about the film, when Quentin says: “Seeing all these rich people makes me want to puke.” Quentin must be psychic or something, because he was just regurgitating what I was thinking about this movie.