With a plot wispier than its heroine’s frequently removed knickers, Q follows fun-loving French saucepot Cécile (Déborah Révy) as she teases and seduces practically everyone, male and female, in her small seaside town on the English Channel (or as the French prefer la Manche) while her adoring boyfriend, small-time crook Chance (Johnny Amaro), remains oblivious. Or is he? Among her conquests, she separately seduces married businessman Yves (Patrick Hautier) and his vulnerable wife Virginie (Christelle Benoit), whose marriage is on rocky ground after an unexplained trauma, and cocksure young mechanic Matt (Gowan Didi). But is Cécile really more interested in Matt’s beautiful girlfriend, the virginal, repressed Alice (Hélène Zimmer)? And just what does she have planned for her troop of dissatisfied, sexually frustrated friends?
Opening as he means to go on, at crotch level, director Laurent Bouhnik invites us to spy on a group of young women as they take a lengthy communal shower, the camera framing them mid-thigh to shoulder, offering us a long, lingering gaze upon their wet flesh; jiggling breasts, tight buttocks, neatly trimmed pussies, but crucially not their faces, as they frankly discuss their sex lives, their partners, their fantasies.
Anyone happening across Q expecting nice, safe Amelie-style whimsy is in for an eye-opening 103 minutes. Sure, it’s full of cute, kooky French girls with eyes as big as saucers. But most of them are being frigged off in a toilet. Essentially inverting Pasolini’s Theorem where Terrence Stamp’s beautiful stranger shags every member of nice bourgeois family and causes chaos, Bouhnik’s Cécile is as much an agent of liberation and force for rebirth as she is of chaos.
Cécile may use sex to lead the other characters (especially the males) a merry dance but ultimately the change she catalyses is positive; couples are brought together, the lonely find comfort, women take control of their own sexuality. Cécile herself, unable to cope with the grief of losing her father, only finds solace, and some measure of eventual redemption, in her string of random sexual encounters.
The latest in a long, not particularly distinguished, line of arthouse flicks that blur the lines between explicit, simulated sex and so-called “real” sex, there’s almost an inevitability to Bouhnik dedicating Q to Cyril Collard and “all those who still believe that love means something.” Bisexual author and filmmaker Collard, who died of an AIDS-related illness just three days before his autobiographical film Savage Nights (which he directed and starred in) won four Césars in 1993, was a sexual and artistic provocateur, unapologetic in his raw portrayal of sex and sexuality and with his graphically explicit depiction of real sex Bouhnik is striving to achieve an emotional and intimate honesty that the best of Collard’s work typified. Bouhnik coaxes intense, powerful performances from his cast of mostly unknown, amateur actors while bucking the trend of arthouse erotica like Intimacy, Romance and 9 Songs where the sex is portrayed in a rather po-faced, serious and, ultimately, boring fashion with an unapologetically joyful celebration of sex and sexuality reminiscent of John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus.
While it’s neither as erotic nor as subversive as it thinks it is and there will always be a certain lasciviousness when a middle-aged man seeks to depict a young woman’s sexuality, Q is an unashamedly frank voyage of self-discovery.
Déborah Révy, Hélène Zimmer, Gowan Didi, Johnny Amaro, Leticia Belliccini, Christelle Benoit, Patrick Hautier