The Pornographer

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Review byMatthew Turner19/04/2002

Two out of five stars
Running time: 108 mins

Slow, occasionally tedious and unmistakably dour and ‘French’, The Pornographer has a few nice ideas and an odd line in quirky humour, but is destined to disappoint thanks to being overshadowed by the censorship row it has ignited.

The Pornographer is the latest film to incur the wrath of the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), who have insisted on removing eleven seconds of footage, despite the film remaining uncut in every other country in the world where it has been screened, including the notoriously scissor-happy Ireland.

This has provoked a spirited attack on the BBFC by the distributors, Metro Tartan, who are putting up a title card at the beginning of the film explaining that Britain is the only country to have cut the film, as well as, apparently, putting up photos of the cut material (the offending sequence involves a porn actor ejaculating onto a porn actress’s face during a porn scene) up in the lobbies of the cinemas where it will be shown.

Sadly, though, the truth is that the film probably isn’t worthy of the ensuing publicity, as for the most part it is slow, occasionally tedious and very downbeat.

As for the scene in question, although it's true that the cut goes against the whole point of the scene (it's about the director losing power - he's previously insisted that the actor doesn't ejaculate on camera), the scene itself doesn’t need to be pornographic for the point to be made. In fact, there's only one other pornographic scene and that is in long shot, so anyone going for cheap thrills will be sorely disappointed.

The plot is essentially about the relationship between a father and his estranged son. Jean-Pierre Leaud (a veteran French actor, most famous for the Truffaut films in which he played Antoine Doinel) plays Jacques Laurent, a pornographic filmmaker who was famous in the 1970s but has recently fallen on hard times. In order to pay off his debts he agrees to make another film, but he finds that the industry has considerably changed.

Meanwhile, Laurent frets about his relationship with his wife (Dominique Blanc) and attempts to reconcile with his estranged son (Jeremie Renier), who is now at university and beginning to make some important decisions of his own.

Essentially, the film fails to really engage the audience, although it picks up much later on during the film's Big Important Speech, in which the director equates pornography with a political act and talks eloquently about finding something “profoundly human” in sex on the screen. However, this scene should really have come a lot earlier in the film, as it’s important to our understanding of Laurent.

Despite its flaws, the film isn’t without a certain quirky sense of humour and contains several amusing scenes, including: Laurent dismissively discussing “the genre” with a group of fans; the frankly bizarre shots of Laurent’s “dream porn film” (L’Animal, in which a woman is hunted like a fox); Laurent’s response to his son’s friends’ mute political protest (“Are you on drugs?”); and Laurent following a total stranger into her apartment and then leaving with the line “Please excuse me – I appear to have lost my mind” – a moment that wouldn’t be out of place in a Woody Allen film.

Ultimately, however, it is a case of too little, too late and the odd quirky moment isn’t enough to justify the tedium of some of the other scenes. There is, undoubtedly, a great film to be made about a pornographer, but this isn’t it. It’s worth watching for the notoriety value, but otherwise it’s strictly for die-hard fans of downbeat French cinema. Disappointing.

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Content updated: 13/11/2019 14:52

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