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À L’aventure (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2009)

      The recent films of French filmmaker Jean-Claude Brisseau are distinctive both because of their provocative depictions of sex and because of their fearless political taunts. These two key elements of the director’s oeuvre coalesce in his latest work, À L’aventure. Several of Brisseau’s previous movies have investigated the image of a woman pleasuring herself to various ends. He’s used this confrontational figure to examine feminist politics, morality, the male gaze, and the nature of pleasure. Now, with À L’aventure, the sight of a woman getting herself off threatens to reveal the very nature of the universe


     The sex scenes in À L’aventure are as explicit as anything that Brisseau has previously done, but they do not exist only to provoke. Instead, the sex that the film’s characters have is presented as a means to an end. Experimental fucking becomes just one more way that Brisseau’s cast heightens their understanding of themselves and steps outside of the somnambulistic reality of their lives. As a mode of transgression, the sex scenes could just as well be the hypnosis, psychoanalysis, or physics that the characters bandy on about. One gets the impression that it’s the sex act dominating the movie’s search for truth mostly due to Brisseau’s own personal obsessions.


     As À L’aventure proceeds, it’s clear that the director is as concerned with examining the limits of personal control as the limits of the contorting body. Its young heroine, who leaves behind her job, family, and fiancé to embark on a sexual odyssey, finds herself befriending a group of people who promise to expand her horizons. As she engages in casual sex, and listens to new friends extol the virtues of submission and astrophysics, she’s introduced to ideas that her compartmentalized life had not previously allowed. Still, Brisseau makes it clear how difficult for her the desired transcendence is to achieve. Even after she’s cast off all obligations, his heroine remains surprisingly judgmental as a friend informs her of her pending divorce. When a casual lover admits his love for another, she’s genuinely hurt. Her pride lingers like a nasty habit. The argument seems to be that society’s bounds actually exist to protect us from our realization of the impossibility of transcendence. To step outside the norm is to face ugly truths about our own limitations.


     À L’aventure’s graphic sex scenes, verbose confessional monologues, and discussions of the nature of the universe counterpoint each other, creating an internal debate that can’t be easily reconciled. Brisseau dares his audience to reject his themes with his frank carnality and blunt thesis, but his movie lays itself out there in a way that is both provocative and effective. The latent suggestions here that love is something of a lie, that pleasure is fleeting, and that the pursuit of it is madness, all sting more than they would if they were entirely baseless. À L’aventure is bold enough to remind us of our pitifully small role in the universe… of our utter lack of control, and if it opts to use graphic, submissive sex to illustrate the point, isn’t that all the better for our entertainment value? That Brisseau is up to something more than mere titillation is most apparent in his ending, which finds the female protagonists flirting with total liberation, but ultimately opting for chastity. The tenderness that À L’aventure discovers as it stares into the void might be its most radical gesture of all.



Jeremy Heilman