Catherine Breillat’s Sex Is Comedy should appeal most to fans of her brilliant Fat Girl, which featured a marathon deflowering predicated on a series of manipulations and power trips. The beautiful Roxanne Mesquida returns, this time more or less playing herself: an actress ill-prepared for a crucial sex scene in the film-within-a-film, Scènes Intimes, directed by Breillat’s amusingly horned-up doppelganger, Jeanne (Anne Parillaud). Gone is the hot Libero De Rienzo, but his impressive cock is faithfully recreated on Grégoire Colin, whose character’s boorishness taunts and seduces the manic Jeanne.
Sex Is Comedy is an anatomy of a sex scene, and it allows Breillat to explore the relationship between actors and filmmakers and the psychology that goes into “faking it.” (Telling, then, that the film begins with extras pretending to be hot on a chilly day at the beach.) Through Jeanne, Breillat demystifies her filmmaking process—alluded to as a shadowplay of life—by revealing the baggage that directors bring to the set of their films. Jeanne manipulates, even humiliates her actors, trading in codes that liken filmmaking to a masculine act.
Moviemaking is still predominantly a boy’s club, and considering how hard it is for women to break in, Breillat’s charged allusion to filmmaking as a strap-on for women makes perfect sense. Though Breillat is a great filmmaker, she tends to wear her theories on her sleeve, so if Sex Is Comedy feels superfluous, exhausting even, that’s because the film does most of the thinking for you. “Antagonism is a tonic for desire,” says Jeanne, almost justifying the way she directs her cast and crew on and off the set. Auto-critique or ego trip? Sex Is Comedy is a little bit of both—sadly more of the latter. Breillat’s honesty is marvelous and she knows how to control and direct her rage, but it’s no fun watching the director so calculatedly air out and dialectically deal with her anxieties. Remember, Catherine: It must show and not show.