If a case can be made that Charlie Kaufman is the auteur of the films made from his scripts, then surely one can stake out a claim that Girls Can’t Swim, Novo, and Three Dancing Slaves similarly belong to Christophe Honoré; every single one showcases pretty young things posturing themselves for the camera. In Honoré‘s own Ma Mère, a widow played by Isabelle Huppert rides in the back of a car with her son and lesbian lover, who sticks her finger in the young buck’s ass and pulls it out for the group to smell. The moment is neither sexy nor challenging, just one of many ridiculous scenarios that conspire to push mother and son into a spectacularly meaningless Oedipal relationship. And yet the film is oddly compelling, insofar as Huppert and Louis Garrel charge through the button-pushing degradation like troopers.
Similarly, Three Dancing Slaves suggests a conspiracy of sexual exploit committed against a handsome cast of actors. As Marc, a drug dealer and body Nazi, Nicolas Cazalé suffers most: Greased-up and shirtless for much of the film’s running time, the actor (recently seen with considerably more hair in Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Le Grand Voyage) gets to fuck a transsexual in one scene and shave his pubes in another. (What it all means I’m not exactly sure, but if his father says it all stinks then I’ll take his word for it.) When Marc’s brother, Christophe (Stéphane Rideau, previously seen below the belt in Sitcom and Come Undone), is released from jail and takes a job at a local meat factory, his success gets on Marc’s nerves. All the while, a third brother, the shy and tattooed Olivier (Thomas Kumerchez)—similarly cut from the same Abercrombie & Fitch mold—grapples with his bourgeoning sexual awakening and the recent death of their mother.
There are many good scenes here (a discussion between Olivier and his young boyfriend about which parts of each other’s bodies they’d eat first is oddly romantic and convincing in spite of the burdensome symbolism), but the film is less than the sum of these moments. Over the course of the film, the brothers chill out, butt heads, and, in one ostensibly metaphoric scene, sleep together in the nude. Unlike the opening shot of Father and Son, though, this image of naked bodies intertwined isn’t a dynamic expression of tightly-wound family bonds, but a straight-up (homo)erotic evocation that the genes in this family are palatable; it’s just Rumble Fish as directed by François Ozon. Indeed, as compelling as the performances are, director Gaël Morel’s smutty framing (a close-up of Kumerchez’s ass when his character asks his boyfriend to shave it) has a way of strong-arming the film’s admittedly intense and often sensitive emotions. Morel tries to cop a feel for himself and, in essence, reduces his characters to sex objects.