By Mónica Delgado
En the middle of the 21st century, a cunnilingus scene can make a festival tremble. Shots of oral sex to a woman in twelve minutes can completely defenestrate a film, written off, since it’s “repelling”, it isn’t erotic, it isn’t a driving symbol. Beyond the excessive and unnecessary shots of behinds, in Mektoub, my love: Intermezzo, Kechiche doesn’t set any limits and leaves his eye be in free will, hunting for that creation of the subconscious male gaze, in a physical film of sun and neon lights.
The second episode of Kechiche’s Mektoub, my love: Intermezzo is light-handed gaze on the lives of the characters of his first 2017 film. Girls, who lived their love and juvenile fury in the first episode of the saga, are here shown in two simple activities of pure leisure: a picnic at the beach and a whole night in a disco. The casual encounter with a Parisian woman, who enters the terrain of a group of migrant women and men, a familiar and friendly clan of Arab ascendance, supports the intention of free integration, something that usually happens in this filmmaker cinema. Even more, the masculine character of Canto Uno (2017) is merely an extra here. The camera assaults the women in the group, and idealizes them through shots of hips and buttocks.
The first sequence in the beach lasts a little more than 35 minutes and it’s the best part of the film. With a close, voyeuristic camera, Kechiche doesn’t show any guilt in stopping to show interest in different parts of his actresses’ bodies, shots of behinds in bikini are seen in bulk, and the quite day of heat and summer in Seté in southern France, translates itself in dialogues about life, love, Tunisian food or some philosophical myths. Kechiche registers a progression of the sunset in these 45 minutes, and how these characters approach the Parisian girl (who looks remarkably like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, or like some character said “has a Romy Schneider look”)
Then comes a sequence which lasts over two and a half hours, and it’s the most excessive bet yet seen in Kechiche’s cinema, since it concentrates almost 85% of the footage in a discothèque journey, to the sound of Abba and other electronic sounds. The family clan of Amin, Ophelie and Toni, has fun through drinks and twerking. And it is in these moments that the Kechiche who exacerbates the registry of the characters’ bodies appears. Long shots of behinds in pure movement. Exploited women from a masculine gaze which manages to vampirize them. The time that the filmmaker dedicates to this registry propitiates even the abstraction, the movement for the movement, the apparition of an hypnotic state of the registry, the observation of a dance exercise taken to the extreme, of trios and bodies which rub against each other. Kechiche isn’t interested in playing the plastic or choreographic game of these bodies, he’s just looking to contemplate them, over and over, in the middle of the party, the pool dance or the influence of alcohol.
In this musical intermezzo, of dance and twerking, a dramatic progression also takes place: Amín, the cousin (Shaïn Boumedine) arrives, and the group decides to pair him with the Parisian girl. Then, between dances, several dialogues occur, full of propositions, of insecurities about a pregnant woman about to marry. The conversations are quite different from each other, mainly trivial, respecting the discotheque context. However, the idea posed in the first scene on the beach is perceived again: the welcoming of the Parisian girl, blonde and physically different to the other girls, without the sexy abilities of the dance. And here the progression factor chimes in: the story in the discothèque ends when the blonde learns the frenetic hip movements. The assimilation of the French-African group is now complete.
It has been said that in this part nothing happens, that it’s merely a register of dances and nothing else over two hours. But Kechiche does establish some non-narrative codes which make the story progress: when he proposes the observation of bodies, his language will come from the corporeal. The characters grow when the filmmaker focuses on their gazes, gestures, types of contortions (Amín kissing someone with eyes open, clearly uncomfortable, the inability of Mary of dancing like the others, the inebriation of some). And in this terrain, which is absolutely feminine (maybe a touch from screenwriter Ghalia Lacroix), there’s an idealization of the environment for women: they drink every kind of drink, there’s no drugs, no stalkers or rapists, and they fuck if they want to, despite the hyper sexualized climate. The women in Kechiche’s films achieve what they want but from their own consent, they seem free, happy and fresh. Here, Kechiche does offer the possibility of this arcade where women are delivered to pure enjoyment, and in return, he takes what it’s his (like a voyeur and obsessed with the timing of dances and buttocks that rule the entire screen). An unbalanced transaction, but one who serves its visual purpose: a film of forms and cult to the bodies.
Inside this disco there’s a scene that has been quite polemic in Cannes, since it shows an explicit cunnilingus among two characters, Aimé and Ophelie (the actresss Ophélie Bau), the pregnant girl, which happens in the disco’s bathroom. In its almost 15 minutes, Kechiche describes different poses, searching the path towards climax of her character. His point of view if close, looking to capture the exact moments of desire in this practice that has visually been underestimated in the history of cinema. And Kechiche decides to enter the bathroom, to show this search of the exact point, with freedom. He seems to tell the whole world: cunnilingus takes time.
Beyond the over dilated times, of scenes that seem to never end there buttocks are seen in the entire screen, this permanent scream of being the authoritarian male gaze, achieve the affirmation of Kechiche as a filmmaker that isn’t afraid to show his philias (or paraphilias) in times of political correction and cynicism. Mektoub, my love: Intermezzo is a cinematic experience unlike others, and has been a symptom of openness in a Cannes program that has sometimes been seen as conservative and apathetic to certain risky cinema.
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Script: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix (Novela: François Bégaudeau)
Cinematography: Marco Graziaplena
Cast: Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Shaïn Boumedine, Alexia Chardard, Lou Luttiau, Hafsia Herzi, Meleinda Elasfour, Kamel Saadi, Roméo De Lacour, Marie Bernard, Dany Martial
Production company: Quat’sous Films
France, 2019, 212 mins