Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I was in the middle of doing my next blog about the influence of Robert Bresson on Michael Haneke's early work (the seventh continent, 71 fragments and Benny's Video), but its gonna take a while and i haven't found the right pictures yet, so I'm taking a break from that to talk about another Bresson-influenced film; 'The Pornographer'. Sometimes rotten tomatoes confuses me. Sure they have a solid overall system for rating films, but every once in a while they all completely miss the boat. It amazes me how a group of critics with no relation to one another can all manage to be so wrong about a film (coincidentally, Michael Haneke's 'Funny Games' is one of those films too). Bertrand Bonello's 'The Pornographer' is the perfect example of that, with a rating on rotten tomatoes that made me question why some film critics actually get paid to do what they do.
By this point, anyone should know that the porn business isn't the glamorous profession that we all thought it was growing up. Over the years, plenty of films have shown the "other side" of pornography. But stuff like; 'Boogie Nights' (obviously), Paul Schrader's 'Hardcore' and even 'Orgazmo' (lol) focus on the seedy, shady and crooked side of porn where people get murdered or strung out on drugs. Not many films that i can think of show the OTHER "other side" of porn, which is the monotony and banality of making a porno. The "not-so glamorous" side that doesn't necessarily focus on the cocaine, but rather the idea that people involved in pornography, from the film crew to the actors, treat it like any other boring job that you go to every morning. I'm sorry, but that's a pretty unique perspective if you ask me. Every scene in 'The Pornographer' where they shoot a sex scene is made to look no different than a cashier working the register at a supermarket ringing up a customer or a construction worker lifting a brick from one place to another. Just for the simple fact that Bertrand Bonello was able to show the pornography business in the same light as a typical office desk job or a regular "9 to 5" should give him some kind of praise.
And what better way to express monotony and banality than to draw influence from Robert Bresson's style, which is notorious for conveying those characteristics. So many scenes in 'The Pornographer' look like they come right out of a Bresson film (i mean that in a good way). A lot of the actors carry their performance on their faces. Every actor's face in the film is somewhat cold and slightly emotionless (intentionally) with a mixture of somberness and calmness. There isn't very much laughing and smiling in 'The Pornographer'. Each of these images below pretty much represents the vibe and overall atmosphere of not only the characters in the film, but the movie all together.
And in these images (below) from various Bresson films (au hasard bathazar, un femme douche and pickpocket), you can see that the actors share the same somber, almost emotionless look as the actors in the pornographer.

'The Pornographer' is the perfect of example of the difference between influence (Bonello) vs. totally copying someone (which is what a director like Tarrantino gets caught up in sometimes). Even though the style of. 'The Pornographer' is clearly drawn from Bresson, its still very much Bertrand Bonello's own film. Unlike Bresson who was notorious for using non-professional actors, Bertrand Bonello uses actual actors (Jean Pierre Leaud, Jeremie Renier, Alice Houri, etc) and even a real porn actress for authenticity (Ovidie). In addition to that, i doubt Bresson would ever make a film about the pornography business.
In the film, Jean Pierre Leaud plays a washed-up porn director from the 70's who has no choice but to step back in to the modern day porn business due to piling debts. What he doesn't seem to realize is that in the 21st century, plot, acting and rehearsal mean very little nowadays and the idea is to turn out as many porno movies as fast as possible. But he doesn't seem to grasp that, and Leaud treats his porn shoots like their actual legitimate films (art films to be exact), which causes tension with his crew because he takes way too long to make a film that anyone else could do in a matter of days. Along with putting the porn business on the same level as any other "normal" profession, Bonello plays with the idea of putting porn films on the same level as "regular" films that you would go see in the theater. Jean Pierre Leaud's character, which is reminiscent of his character in Olivier Assayas' 'Irma Vep', treats his actors and his rehearsals the same way you would expect a "normal" director to.
Whats also really unique about 'The Pornographer' is that on paper, the basic plot; "a clueless, washed up porn director tries his hand at making porn films again", could just as easily have been a comedy, but Bonello was able to make this a very serious film.
In addition to Leaud's return to directing porn, he's also trying to mend a relationship with his son (Jeremie Renier), an aspiring filmmaker, who disowned his father years ago after finding out that his dad was a porn director. Bertrand Bonello took a different route in exploring the relationship between father & son. Usually, its the parent that disowns or cuts him/herself off from their child. But as i said before, in this film its the other way around. Furthermore, in any other film there would be some kind of a rivalry between the father & son who are both filmmakers, but Bonello chose not to do the obvious. Plus there's a nice unspoken connection between the 2 characters. Even though Jeremie Renier distances himself from his father, and apparently wanted nothing to do with him, he still chose an almost EXACT career path as his father: Film Director.
Jean Pierre Leaud, who is pretty much an icon of french film, was known for always playing characters that were "idealist" or "thinkers" in the films of Truffaut and Godard. In the years following the french new wave, it almost became a regular thing to cast Leaud as a director (this was something we also touched on in my review of Olivier Assays 'Irma Vep' a few months ago).

Jean Pierre Leaud directs his film crew in Olivier Assayas' 'Iram Vep'
 Jean Pierre Leaud plays a pretentious director in 'Last Tango In Paris'
Leaud as the veteran porn director in 'The Pornographer'



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