sun 21/07/2019

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno review - cold carnal overdose from Kechiche | reviews, news & interviews

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno review - cold carnal overdose from Kechiche

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno review - cold carnal overdose from Kechiche

Eroticism does best when less is more

Ophélie (Ophélie Bau) and Amin (Shaïn Boumédine)

Abdellatif Kechiche, the Tunisian-French director, is perhaps best known for the lengthy and explicit sex scenes in La vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour). His latest film opens, slam in your face, with a sequence of passionate love-making: well-shot, edited and played by the actors, but almost as raw as porn. We watch, along with Amin (Shaïn Boumédine), the film’s main character, who peers, fascinated through a gap in the blinds.

This voyeuristic moment resonates with the filmmaker’s own almost obsessive need to expose without subtlety the details of sexual activity. A kind of voyeurism in which the gaze is emotionally disengaged, exploring with forensic curiosity – or could it be a paradoxical and perverse mixture of attraction and prurience? There’s nothing wrong with showing stuff, but with Kechiche, in this film as it was the case with Blue is the Warmest Colour, the exposure is intemperate and the images of sex – seduction, foreplay and the act – are sadly short on eroticism, as it the partying were in some way driven by desperate and consumerist need rather anything more profound or genuinely felt. The writer Leïla Slimani has written in Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc (2017) about attitudes and behaviour around sex in today’s Morocco: she evokes a feeding frenzy – even among the fundamentalists – that suggests an almost violent return of the repressed. She is writing about her own country, but her reflections could apply to any of the Maghreb countries and to the North African diaspora in France.

Sex haunts Kechiche’s new film: his young protagonists, assembled in and around the Mediterranean town of Sète for summer frolicking, flirt on the beach, in bars and restaurants, drink a great deal, smoke weed and take other mood-enhancing substances. Amin returns to the South of France for a holiday, and watches the others in their dance of seduction and sex, participating a little, but held back by doubt and sensitivity. Amin’s cousin Tony (Salim Kechiouche), a very different kind of guy, is the local Don Juan, a heartless séducteur who leaves girls in the lurch, after he has charmed them into submission.

Kechiche is probably making a point about the relentless boredom and emotional detachment of his protagonists

The film is written by François Bégaudeau, the writer and former schoolteacher who starred in Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or film Entre les Murs (The Class), which chronicled the lives of slightly younger protagonists. While Cantet’s film dealt with coming-of-age, in Kechiche’s film, the young people have supposedly passed that dramatic moment of initiation, and are finding ways through the business of behaving like young adults. They are on a sort of listless plateau, reaching out for kicks, and mostly very lost – and as characters, they don’t display much psychological depth.

Their sex-fuelled anomie is contrasted with Amin’s innocence, and the sheep-farming and milking that one of the locals, Ophélie (Ophélie Bau), and her family are involved in. Amin leaves his friends in a bar and watches an ewe give birth to twin lambs. Once again a voyeur, the poor sheep blinded by lights. It’s unclear if this "natural", more grounded and awe-inspiring moment, drawn-out as so much else is in the film, offers a moral counterpart to the loveless power-games that dominate the interaction among most of the film's characters. 

There is a moral void in the film – or at least a lack of clarity. And a coldness which makes it, at over three hours a hard and unrewarding watch. There is nothing wrong with slow – take the beautiful pans and tracking shots in Cuaron’s Roma, for instance – but even the best fly-on-the-wall style fiction, most likely unscripted, needs to be enhanced with an element of drama. Kechiche is probably making a point about the relentless boredom and emotional detachment of his protagonists, or forcing us to spend some time away from the fast-feeding frenzy of social media. He might as well be showing us that at least this portion of humanity behaves with less natural grace than animals – the birth of the lambs, rich with symbolism, not least in Islamic culture, points to a moral or philosophical stance. But this is too unclear to have any force, and Mektoub, My Love is a film, for all the bizarre and inappropriate interjections of Mozart, that is strangely heartless and without soul. There is a Canto Due coming out soon, and the story of Amin and his friends continues. The plot will perhaps thicken: it could certainly do with more insight and depth.

There is a moral void in the film - or at least a lack of clarity

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters