Dir: Virginie Despentes. France-Belgium-Switzerland. 2012. 97mins
Ah, Emmanuelle Béart and Béatrice Dalle. What filmgoer wouldn’t want to see the intimation of hot girl-on-girl action between two emblematic actresses who, having burst on the scene in Manon Des Sources and Betty Blue, respectively, assured the French franchise on sexy, uninhibited babes for decades to come?
The emphasis is on being kindred spirits and not on nudity or anything sexually crass.
Uh, in the case of card-carrying bad girl Virginie Despente’s Bye Bye Blondie, the answer is: Anybody who values their time, that’s who. This is a truly (and inadvertently) risible film, although the sincerity of its central duo can’t be doubted even if the stiff, enigmatically awful performances can.
After its March 21 French release, international gay festivals and women’s vents will probably give this misfire a home - after all, lesbian couples are still a rarity in feature films - but it’s puzzling how so many co-production entities (including government-administered funding bodies) could have read this script and said “Sign me up!”
Adapting her own novel, the co-director of the vomitously inane Baise-moi (which enjoyed profitable runs and way too much attention rom serious critics in multiple territories back in 2000) makes clunky exposition a near art form. If Despentes has improved slightly (VERY slightly) as a director, it’s only because it would have been nearly impossible to get worse.
When Dalle and Béart circle each other - which they do with alarming frequency - their come-hither-no-stay-away prancing comes across like the movements of somebody who studied bullfighting on a Wii console. (‘Look at us! Are we insolent and lascivious or what?’)
Despentes altered her book’s heterosexual romance into a lesbian one for the screen. Gloria (Dalle), who manages to project both combativeness and indolence, still lives in the northeastern French city of Nancy where she grew up. She considers a punk sensibility something one never grows out of. Frances (Béart) has gone the bourgeois route and is the household name host of a weekly television show on the arts.
For no discernible reason, Frances has her chauffeur drive her to Nancy to - get this - lure Gloria to come live with her in Paris and pick up where they left off as rebellious teenagers. As flashbacks show, their intense teen romance, begun (where else?) in the loony bin, consisted of power games, kissing, fondling and more, although the more is never explicitly shown.
Fetching Clara Ponsot as the young Frances seems to be channeling Theda Bara. Soko as the young Gloria is like an electroshock version of Melanie Lynskey’s’s excellent performance opposite Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures.
The film toggles back and forth between the teen romance, circa 1984, and the current attempt to recapture the carnal magic. And, indeed, Dalle and Béart lock lips less than 10 minutes into the proceedings - but in both time frames, the emphasis is on being kindred spirits and not on nudity or anything sexually crass.
Frances lives on the upper deck of a fabulous duplex apartment with her husband, Claude (Pascal Greggory), a currently blocked writer who buys his mannerisms in bulk from Cliché Clearing House. Claude cherishes hiscomplicity with Frances, but prefers young boys in the sack. One of the film’s many puzzling elements is why Frances believes that marrying an obviously gay man boosted her career and masked her true proclivities.
Of course, as live-in partners go, Claude has exquisite manners and Gloria has none. Gloria feels uncomfortable in so much spacious luxury and sets about building an indoor shack with found objects off the street. Intrigue at the TV station leads Frances to believe her back may be about to be stabbed by her producer. Ah, fickle showbiz! At least when punks and skinheads had a fight, it was real, you know?
The message appears to be that first love is potent and you shouldn’t let anything get in the way of your dreams. Who knew? Despentes has the equivalent of a tin ear when it comes to camera placement, pacing and any of the other customary building blocks of cinema. Vet scenester Lydia Lunch sings in a pan-sexual nightclub whose lull edge needs sharpening.
A late-arriving verbal cat fight infuses some much needed energy, but Bye Bye Blondieremains leaden and ludicrous for far too much of its running time.
Production companies: Red Star Cinema, Frakas Productions, Vega Film, Master Movies, Wild Bunch, Garance Capital, Tarantula Belgique
International sales: Wild Bunch, www.wildbunch.biz
Producers: Cédric Walter, Sébastien de Fonséca, Jean-Yves Roubin, Ruth Waldberger
Screenplay: Virginie Despentes, adapted from her novel
Cinematography: Hélène Louvart
Production designers: Patrick Deschesne, Alain-Pascal Houssiaux, Laurie
Colson, Aurore Benoit
Editor: Martine Giordano
Music: Varou Jan
Main cast: Emmanuelle Béart, Béatrice Dalle, Soko, Clara Ponsot, Pascal Greggory