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L’Ennui (1998, Arielle Dombasle, Charles Bering)

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The portrayal of sexual obsession has long been a cinematic staple, but it’s a see-saw genre – for every original Lolita or Ai No Corrida there’s a remake or, worse still, a film by Adrian Lyne. This vivid French realisation of the theme belongs firmly with the classics.

Philosophy teacher Martin (Charles Berling) yearns to escape middle age and his recently annulled marriage, but a mid-life crisis beckons. After driving around Paris on his regular ‘sightseeing’ trips to watch courting couples, he ends up in a bar, and meets Meyers (Robert Kramer), an artist. The two men get on well, and Martin is invited to call upon his new friend at any time.

Accepting the invitation, he visits the flat two days later to find that Meyers has died. The news is broken by Cécilia, (Sophie Guillemin), the artist’s muse and lover. Within days, she and Martin begin a passionate affair which threatens to restore his temperament. But as Cécilia misses the odd date, Martin becomes increasingly obsessed with her and delves into insanity upon the realisation that she is not exclusively his…

If Martin seeks solace in misery, L’Ennui does not. It may be bleak and depressing, but the film offers bursts of welcome humour (such as Martin trashing a telephone before desperately seeking another to receive a pep call from his ex-wife). The lovers’ relationship may head inexorably down toward destruction, but director Cédric Kahn stifles any sense of inevitability by portraying an uncompromising view of infatuation based on graphic sex scenes and a skilled professionalism that depicts boredom and routine without once suffering from it.

production details
cast
Charles Berling as Martin
Sophie Guillemin as Cécilia
Arielle Dombasle as Sophie
Robert Kramer as Meyers
Alice Grey as Cécilia’s Mother
Maurice Antoni as Cécilia’s Father
Tom Ouedraogo as Momo
Patrick Arrachequesne as Doctor

crew
Director: Cédric Kahn
Writers: Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, Cédric Kahn (from the novel by Alberto Moravia)

Portugal – France | 122 minutes | 1998

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