Desire DVD Review: A Realistic Look at Twentysomething Sexual Mores

Laurent Bouhnik's erotic drama explores the lives of twentysomethings in a small French town.
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French director Laurent Bouhnik’s romantic drama, Desire examines the sexual mores of a group of loosely connected friends and acquaintances in a quiet seaside village. Lead character Cécile (Déborah Révy), unable to accept her father’s recent death, wanders from one sexual encounter to another.

Desire DVD coverEven though Cécile’s father has died, its hard to dredge up any sympathy for her as she meanders from lover to potential lover, targeting random strangers at cafes, good-natured auto mechanic Matt (Gowan Didi), teasing her sometimes boyfriend Chance (Johnny Amaro), and generally putting the make on others in her social group. An economic downturn has left many locals, including some of Cécile’s girlfriends, unemployed. They drink, smoke cigarettes, and complain about their boyfriends in between romantic trysts. The females in her circle of friends discuss their relationships while clothed and unclothed. The film has more than its share of female and male characters exposing their feelings (and NSFW body parts) to the camera.

It takes awhile to sort out some of the relationships at first, but after we’ve become acquainted with the attractive twentysomething characters and their travails, a few of them elicit our interest more than others. Matt and naive shopgirl Alice (Helene Zimmer) are the two most sympathetic characters.  Cècile is fascinating, but harder to figure out. Her sexual bravado is off-putting and emotionless at first; as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that it’s a way to avoid dealing with the emotional aftermath of her father’s death.

The bluish tint and lush framing that colors some of the film’s sex scenes add to their emotional resonance. The scenes have the elegant beauty of still art photography. Whether the temporary lovers are in a modern stainless steel kitchen or a beach cabin, the camera lingers over them with equal parts respect and voyeurism. As for the scenarios themselves, Desire covers just about everything you can think of - there’s a lesbian coupling, self-gratification, anonymous (almost) sex, spanking, light bondage, you name it, they do it. But we’ve met the participants outside of the boudoir, we know about their personalities and struggles, so the sexual encounters move the storyline along. This diminishes the titillation factor somewhat, but the scenes are still hot, (in an arty French way, of course.) 

Cécile entices naïve, sexually frustrated young Alice into a lesbian encounter and lures her into an unusual series of sexual intrigues. As a result, Alice loses her inhibitions and gains something she’s always wanted.

Bouhnik’s mission in the film, according to the production notes, is to explore the difference between desire - the one-night stands and public sex for the sake of sex - and the sex act as part of a loving relationship. Desire examines this by portraying sexual encounters as a natural part of the film’s plot. There’s lots of partial and full-frontal nudity in this film, but no penetration or pseudo-pornography. While Desire doesn’t provide any answers to the mysteries of male-female relationships, it is a realistic look at twentysomething sexual mores. Déborah Révy gives a commanding and erotic performance as Cècile. The background characters, including an overbearing landlord and lecherous businessman, add a bit of humor to the proceedings.

Desire will be released on DVD on June 5th, 2012 by Strand Releasing.

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