THE PORNOGRAPHER (Bertrand Bonello, 2001)

Jacques Laurent, who elevated “the genre” (embarrassed, he himself winces at that categorization), is making his first pornographic film in more than fifteen years. Times and audiences have changed. On-set, Jacques’s young producer tells him he is “too old” when Jacques doesn’t even look up at the soullessly raunchy scene that is being shot. Jacques is estranged from his teenaged son, Joseph, who left home upon discovering his father’s profession. Might not Joseph, though, have felt betrayed by Jacques’s evasive explanation that he “makes films,” begun when Joseph, five years old, had just lost his mother? Now Joseph is part of a group that hopes to revive France’s 1968 spirit of revolt. Does Joseph grasp that his father’s pornography was part of the earlier protest? Jacques and Joseph tentatively reconcile. Romanticizing his father’s generation, Joseph laments that his own seeks “social recognition” for their radicalism. As if in response to our dreams, father and son are played by two of the most beloved actors on Earth: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Jérémie Renier. Both are brilliant.
     Joseph’s group discusses how best to express their radicalism. Mockingly, Joseph suggests being mute as the “ultimate protest.” Everyone falls mute. Joseph flashes disgruntlement, rises, exits. But orchestrated mass silence indeed becomes the group’s strategy!
     Lives are wrenched, generations confused. Jacques leaves Jeanne and builds a house, reflecting his son’s abandoned passion for architecture, while Joseph . . . .
     At Cannes, writer-director Bertrand Bonello’s Le pornographe was cited by international critics “[f]or the sensitivity it shows in its portrayal of a delicate subject and for Jean-Pierre Léaud’s performance.” The film draws especial stature and substance by addressing the extent to which the failures of 1968 shadowed forth an ongoing national shame and trauma by having thrown too much of France’s political Left into disarray.

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