What to Rent

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In which film savant Iggy Cortez gives you something to watch if even a trip on the 1, 2, or 3 seems too much.

A friend of mine recently said he couldn’t think of any great contemporary directors, and to contemporary cinema’s defense the first (out of many) names that came to mind was that of Arnaud Desplechin. His enigmatic masterpiece, Kings and Queen, released last May in New York, was the best movie of the year: not quite a comedy, not quite a drama – yet oddly greater than the two.

While the title of his 1996 movie, My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument suggests it is one of those witty but trivial farces about the anxieties of youth, it possesses an uncanny power and introverted intelligence we have come to expect from only the best of dramas. The film should resonate particularly well with Columbia students faced with the reality of life after college, and the very real possibility of life failing the enormous expectations we romantically demand from it.

The “narrative” centers on Pierre (Mathieu Amalric, excellently performing the part he plays so well in almost all his movies) and his gang of friends, lovers and acquaintances. Once poised to be the next big thing in French academia, Paul’s sense of self-inadequacy hits rock-bottom when a former rival from his grad school days takes the coveted associate professorship Paul unconsciously covets. For almost three hours, the film meanders playfully and energetically around the outcomes of this existential malaise, capturing inner soliloquies, monumental turning points, and trivial occurrences with the same indiscriminate, keenly observant eye. But My Sex Life is more than simply analytical. While Desplechin’s films reflect the messiness of actual life, idealistically, My Sex Life is something of a reflection of what youth (at its best) should be: intelligent, vaguely anarchic, and effortlessly beautiful.

Many critics do not know what to make of Desplechin’s films, and indifference to humanity is one of the common complaints conservative critics beat a drum to in their denouncement of his experimental cinema. But it is precisely because of My Sex Life’s delightfully self-conscious deconstructed narrative, and Desplechin’s willingness to push cinema’s unexplored expressive potential, that makes that moment of self-identification with his characters (in particular, Emmanuelle Devos’ Esther) far more profound and absolute than anything Hollywood has ever produced. Desplechin’s existential concern may be one of age-old interrogations, but formally his cinema does not ask why, so much as why not.

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  1. "Why Not"

    Which, not coincidentally, as I'm sure you know, is the name of his production company.

  2. annoying indie hipster

    don't you think wes anderson is the saving grace of cinema?

  3. MAT

    Whatever love Iggy may have for Royal Tenenbaums is surely far exceeded by his worship at the altar of American Beauty.

  4. Liz

    why not - i think the last sentence was a wink to the literati.

    while i enjoyed kings and queen, i don't think it was anywhere near the best films of last year

  5. nobody

    would hardly call Kings and Queen the best film of the year. among the most disappointing, perhaps.

  6. david e

    kings and queen was great. nobody, go home and watch 'crash'

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