Dir: Christophe Honore. 2010. France. 72 mins.

Man At Bath (Homme Au Bain)

Christophe Honore’s poem to homosexual desire is part personal chant d’amour, part the porno doodlings of a horny teenager. Devoid of the humour which could have made it more palatable, this largely improvised affair is a strictly minor curio from the prolific film-maker and it will find its chief exposure on the gay and lesbian film festival circuit. Even GLBT audiences will weary of the full frontal male nudity, erections and sex scenes, chiefly enacted by porn star Francois Sagat, which often serve to elongate the long-at-72-minutes running time.

Sagat’s section is equally artificial, as, romping through a series of kinky sexual trysts, he realises with Neantherdal slowness that he is in love with Omar after all.

The key set-up itself – that a film-maker of some international reknown lives in a rough housing estate on the outskirts of Paris with a musclebound lug of no apparent intellectual capacity – is highly contrived. So is the dramatic premise: after the lug Emmanuel (Sagat) anally rapes the film-maker Omar (Sellem), Omar breaks up with him and asks him to be gone from the apartment by the time he gets back from a weeklong promotional trip to New York City with his lead actress Chiara Mastroianni (who might or might not be playing herself).

Emmanuel and Omar proceed to spend their week apart and both reflect on their relationship. Emmanuel has sex with as many men as he can lay his strapping hands on (this particular tower block appears to be a hotbed for gay activity), gradually waking up to his longing for Omar, while Omar and Chiara do the rounds in New York and hook up with a cute Canadian kid called Dustin (Segura-Suarez) who offers Omar sexual distraction from Emmanuel.

Honore’s camera lingers over Segura-Suarez’s tattooed body with the same voyeuristic longing with which he shoots Sagat, a sad-faced beefcake of limited acting range who also scored the lead in Bruce LaBruce’s new film LA Zombie. Indeed the film possesses a juvenile sensibility throughout, from the casting of Sagat to the preoccupation with his derriere, the aggressive smoking, the showy reference to Salinger’s Franny And Zooey, and the tantrum a petulant Mastroianni throws about a bunch of American students she has just spoken to.

Nor do the two strands – the suburban bleakness of Gennevilliers and the business class trip to New York City – sit well together.

The New York section was shot on handheld DV camera by Honore (as Omar) while he and Mastroianni were promoting their last film together, Making Plans For Lena, and feels false.

Sagat’s section is equally artificial, as, romping through a series of kinky sexual trysts, he realises with Neantherdal slowness that he is in love with Omar after all. Particularly bemusing are an encounter with the aging American intellectual upstairs (played by cult novelist Dennis Cooper), and a session with an Omar-lookalike in which Emmanuel sticks strips of yellow tape to his partner’s face leaving only his moustache uncovered. When Cooper’s character likens Emmanuel to a piece of bad art, the irony is not lost, nor Sagat’s line that he is uncomfortable around actors.

The title refers to a male nude by 19th century artist Gustave Caillebotte and, apparently reflects Honore’s wish to shoot male bodies – a wish which he has more than fulfilled. Alas, there is little of the insight into or tenderness for his characters which leant such piquancy to earlier films like Dans Paris and Love Songs.

Man At Bath (Homme Au Bain) screened in competiton at the Locarno International Film Festival.

Production company: Les Films Du Belier

World sales: Le Pacte

Producer: Justin Taurand

Director of photography: Stephane Vallee

Production designer: Samuel Deshors

Editor: Chantal Hymans

Main cast: Francois Sagat, Chiara Mastroianni, Dustin Segura-Suarez, Omar Ben Sellem, Rabah Zahi, Dennis Cooper