With this gentle French drama, Catherine Breillat has basically made a fictionalized behind-the-scenes movie about filming one of the sex scenes in her last film, “Fat Girl” (A Ma Soeur). It’s a comedy in the classical sense–an absurd slice of life as a film director (Anne Parillaud) tries to juggle the on- and off-screen relationships of an actor (Gregoire Colin) and actress (Roxane Mesquida, who played this scene in “Fat Girl”) to get her movie made. There are tensions on all sides as she copes with the actor’s self-aware hesitance and the actress’ moody sullenness, but most of all with her own self-doubts. She’s helped by her game-for-anything assistant (Ashley Wanninger) and the entire crew to get the scene on film. There are several brilliant moments in this film that catch you off guard with their transparency and meaning. It’s an insightful glimpse into the mechanics of filmmaking, especially at the point where a difficult and emotional “nude scene” needs to be shot.
There’s a clever opening sequence involving the filming of a kiss on the beach–it’s supposed to be summertime, but it’s absolutely freezing. The extras won’t stop shivering and the lead actors are unsure of each other. Then we move to the main studio-based scene and the tensions are highlighted in a new and intriguing way, right up to the astonishingly emotional ending. Along the way we get far too much ponderous French wordiness (everyone analyzes everything endlessly!), but as Breillat unravels the creative process of acting, writing and directing, she really says some important things here. The performances are terrific, and work on several levels, while Breillat keeps the film looking natural and real, avoiding the temptation to play film-set tricks on us (there are a few). But it captures both the exhilaration and tedium of the filmmaking process–and of looking for and finding passion wherever it might be.