CV loves Isabelle Huppert. She has a fine-boned beauty combined with an intelligence that glows in her eyes. As an actress, she can convey the most subtle emotions and shifts of feeling effortlessly, convincingly, believably. She also – most of the time – has unusually good sense in her choices of roles and movies. Honestly, we would go to hear her read the Manhattan telephone book.
So you can imagine the anticipation with which we went to see The School of Flesh, which not only stars our divina, but costars her with young, sexy Vincent Martinez, whose film debut this appears to be, and who is the brother of Olivier Martinez who starred opposite Juliette Binoche in an overrated French history epic called The Horseman on the Roof. (Are you still with me?)
The School of Flesh is based on a novel by the great Japanese writer, militarist, and suicide by hara-kiri, Yukio Mishima. With these elements, a delicious evening of intelligent and illuminating film entertainment was anticipated by all. Perhaps you have guessed from my tone that all was not as promised?
It is not terrible, but The School of Flesh is a total misfire. Huppert plays Dominique, a divorced, successful, classy career woman of a certain age. She and her unnamed friend (who seems to be in the script only so Huppert has someone with whom to go drinking and is a certain age plus) go to a gay disco. Almost instantly eye contact is made with young Quentin, a boxer/bartender/bisexual hustler. The die is cast.
An affair ensues; the sex is great for them both, though you would hardly believe it from what happens on screen. She wants intimacy beyond sex – talking, learning about his family, et cetera, et cetera. He may not be capable of intimacy (it is hard to tell); at the least he is elusive, independent, willful, with mysterious unknown complications in his young life (which are never made quite clear).
What follows is a series of plot developments and ancillary characters with which and whom we will not trouble you, gentle reader. The idea of this film might have been better on paper than it is on the screen, but the script ("Creatures of the night keep their secrets well." "Deep down he is cold." "No man will ever be able to give you what you want.") and the utter shallowness of the character development on screen take all the sizzle out of the idea and leave you as cold and unmoved as poor Dominique and Quentin. They both cry in the film. She has tears running down her face, but no other evidence of the act of feeling as the tears run. This is a tricky feat, indeed, and, one assumes, a conceit of the director, Benoit Jacquot, who actually made a pretty good film a few years back called A Single Girl. He cries when she throws him out (hard to believe a woman of this sophistication would ever have invited him in) – and it actually seemed believable. (That’s the photo of him in the crying scene above on the left.)
Every character in this film – except Dominique’s drinking pal, who isn’t a character, but a sponge – is shallow, self serving, duplicitous. Not one, not even Ms. Huppert, alas, is worth your two hours.