THE FRENCH MAKE a good case for playing hard-to-get with L'Ennui, Cedric Kahn's film chronicling the breakdown of a middle-aged philosophy teacher obsessed with a 17-year-old girl. When Martin (Charles Berling) meets the young Cecilia (Sophie Guillemin), he finds her a bore. After their first tryst, he tactlessly remarks, "I'm disappointed; you seem very ordinary." He boasts to his ex-wife Sophie (Arielle Dombasle), an Ashley Judd look-alike with a chic black bob, that his Lolita has nothing to offer but sex. "Her cunt is more interesting than her mouth," he says.
directed by Cedric Kahn
with Charles Berling, Sophie Guillemin, and Arielle Dombasle
runs March 24-30 at Grand Illusion
Maybe so, but things turn around quickly when Cecilia starts curtailing their meetings to date another man, an actor closer to her age. Soon we find Martin waiting by the phone, following Cecilia around like a private eye, then running to vent to his ex-wife, whose patience wears thin. It's amusing at first to watch Martin's neurosis get the best of him, but eventually he becomes as desperate as a junkie, humiliating himself in front of his friends and colleagues. He's finally reduced to groveling before Cecilia, offering everything he can and then some.
Contrary to its title, L'Ennui is an energetic, lively movie, unlike Catherine Breillat's slower, more ponderous Romance, another recent French film about sexual obsession. But while her controversial 1999 picture unflinchingly showed the relationship between obsession and self-hatred, L'Ennui doesn't go quite far enough. The characterizations are too slight: Martin is a classic portrait of repression (so of course he's easily overwhelmed by sex). Meanwhile Cecilia is the familiar femme fatale (mysterious, implacable, and implausible), just the kind of girl who leads a grown man to make baffling statements like, "I have her, but I can't possess her." Turns out their affair was more interesting than his mouth.