Cannes Film Review:
conversation in “Sextape” is
Gleiberman, Chief Film Critic, Veriety
Two cads treat their girlfriends like sex toys in
a slice of bad behavior that would like to be a vérité youthquake but sticks to
the raunchy surface.
conversation in “Sextape” is about blowjobs — how to get them, who’s
going to give them — and it’s funny, for a while, to hear sex chattered about in
such a resolutely casual and graphic utilitarian
Dahmane) and Salim (Sidi
Mejai), the characters who occupy the head-spinningly raunchy
center of “Sextape” — along with
their girlfriends, Rim (Inas
Chanti) and Yasmina (Souad Arsane), who are sisters — have the
distinction of being two of the most flippantly insensitive young male dicks
ever seen in the movies.
|CREDIT: Courtesy of Cannes Film
Director: Antoine Desrosières
With: Souad Arsane, Inas
Chanti, Sidi Mejai, Mehdi Dahmane, Elis Gardiole, Loubna Abidar, Baya Kasmi,
Release Date: May 10,
They’re over-the-top, without scruples
or shame; whatever happens, they don’t give a f—k. Yet the joke is that there’s
nothing too remarkable about them. As the film presents it, they’re cads of
their generation, bros who grew up on hardcore amateur video and the brotherhood
of frat-house misogyny (a value system so widespread that it no longer requires
spending time in an actual frat house), where girls are treated like fleshbot
Half the conversation in “Sextape” is about
blowjobs — how to get them, who’s going to give them — and it’s
funny, for a while, to hear sex chattered about in such a resolutely casual and
graphic utilitarian way.
But maybe only for a
while. In the minds, and groins, of Majid and Salim (their hearts never enter
the picture), a blowjob is a pleasurable act, but it’s also a ritual of
domination, a negotiating chip, a victory. It’s that moment of bliss when life
I phrase all of this in such starkly crude terms because those are the terms
of the movie. You could say that “Sextape,” an aggressively loose and rambling
four-character talkathon that appears to be more than a little improvised, is a
film in the grand tradition of big-screen bad behavior that’s liberating to
watch because it smashes the taboos of an overly polite and correct society.
That tradition extends back to the Bertrand Blier films of the ’70s (“Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,” “Going
Places”) and links up to the rule-trashing spirit of films like “Animal House” or “Kids” or
But you could also say that “Sextape” is so focused on the
arrested surface of the libidinous power games it shows us that the film isn’t
interested in discovering anything else about its characters. As a result, they
don’t deepen or reveal more layers as the movie goes on. The two young men start
out as dicks in overdrive, and remain dicks in overdrive. The two young women
are in overdrive, too — though one of them, at least, gets the chance to wake
Early on, they’re all seated in a coffee shop, and Rim and
Yasmina are trying to raise Majid and
Salim’s consciousness by leading them in a discussion of which
activity is worse: gay sex or rape. Both
dudes claim (of course!) that anything gay is worse than rape, but once Rim
offers Majid a hypothetical example that includes his father and sister, he
begins to see it differently. That’s the film’s notion of
“Sextape” wants to feel ripped
from reality, and it’s bracing, at times, in its raw comic spirit. Yet the fact
is that you’re watching folks who make the Guidos and Guidettes of “Jersey
Shore” look like Merchant Ivory characters — which is to say, the “Jersey Shore”
crew aren’t just genteel by comparison, they’re also more interesting. That
said, the dialogue in “Sextape” is
naturalistic in a ferociously paced, spilling-over-the-edges-of-civility way,
and there’s a scalding street-wit bluntness to it.
So why are these young women with these dudes in the
first place? For starters, they’re part of an ethnic-cultural demimonde. All
four are second-generation French Arabs, living in a city that appears to be
somewhere in the industrial south (the place is never identified, but it looks
like it could be Marseilles), and they have a history. The film takes place
right before Ramadan, and the four actors (who share screenplay credit with the
film’s director, Antoine Desrosières) create an earthy sense of
They’re also intensely attractive screen stars, with personalities that pop
and an exotically assimilated sort of beauty. Mehdi
Dahmane has the sulky, thick-eyebrowed handsomeness of
Jake Gyllenhaal with a dash of
Belmondo, Sedi Majai is a sexy geek who’s like Shia LaBeouf with a Ron Jeremy mustache, and Inas Chanti, even stripped of make-up, has a
tousle-haired no-nonsense glamour. The performer who takes
over the movie, though, is Souad
Arsane. Her Yasmina is the
film’s most innocent character, and its ripest for liberation, and the
cherubically spiky Arsane plays her like a junior Middle
Eastern Lena Dunham. Arsane and
Chanti truly seem like sisters, with a pillow-talk intimacy
that can edge, in a flash, into prickly competition.
“Sextape” turns out to be
Yasmina’s journey, which kicks in when Rim goes away for a
field trip to Auschwitz. The other three hang out, doing the
clubbing thing — during which Majid, of course, dances with
other women, while Yasmina does all she can to keep him from
violating her sister’s trust. The three wind up in a parking garage, and it’s
here that the film’s most brutally convincing male-gaze incident takes
The two dudes decide that the hard-up
Majid deserves a blowjob, and that Yasmina would be the perfect
one to give it to him. She’s a feisty girl who at first says, “No way.” But the
guys break down her resistance, and how that happens is very #MeToo. It’s
not force, per se — it’s a kind of browbeating manipulation that
“Sextape” captures all too convincingly. Then again, one reason
why Yasmina is portrayed as going along with it is that the
sordidly impersonal blowjob/hookup culture that these young men treat as their
divine right is her culture, too.
What Yasmina doesn’t suspect is that while she’s doing the
deed, Salim is filming it on his phone. It’s ostensibly to stop
Yasmina from ratting them out, but once he’s got the sex tape
in hand, he realizes that he has the power to blackmail her. And so he does,
demanding that she comply with any sexual activity he desires — an arrangement
that she agrees to honor for several months. Message: The
dick wants what it wants.
The only dramatic question driving “Sextape” is how
Yasmina will find a way to wriggle out of this horrific deal.
But what she really needs to wake up from is the life she’s been living — the
whole vision of a relationship that revolves around being a supplicant.
Watching “Sextape,” we think: Is this a French thing? A French-Arab thing? An American thing
that has now become a global thing? There is certainly a grand and gaping
paradox to the fact that at a time when women are fighting, and winning,
progressive battles on the cultural-legal level, life on the ground, as depicted
in a film like “Sextape,” offers the Spring Break version of sexual politics.
It’s as if the Western world were spinning forward and backward at the same
I just wish the movie, for all its improv dazzle, were richer and more fun.
The sex-tape plot gets a wild climax in a public restroom that, I suppose,
represents the natural culmination of these dudes’ blowjob fixation; but it
feels more like a PC stunt than a convincing resolution.
As a youthquake
snapshot, “Sextape” never approaches
the authenticity of “American Honey” — or the
hilarity of “Superbad.” Yasmina goes
off on her own, and stumbles into a drug dealer (Elis
Gardiole) who turns out to be a dick with a heart of gold. Yet why is
this sleek bald black stud photographed nude (and erect), when all the other sex
in the movie is filmed relatively discreetly? It’s hard to come up with an
explanation that doesn’t hinge on (unintentional) racism. What I really wish is
that the dealer had turned out to be a contrasting sort of character. He does,
at least, favor oral sex in the other direction. But in “Sextape,” that’s
a caveman’s idea of progress.
Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain
Regard), May 10, 2018. Running time: 108 MIN.
Production: A Les Films de L’Autre Cougar, Digital District, Eye Lite, Lemon
Studio, Flach Film, Rezo Productions prod. Producer: Annabelle Bouzom.
Crew: Director: Antoine Desrosières. Screenplay: Antoine Desrosières, Souad
Arsane, Inas Chanti, Mehdi Dahmane, Sisi Mejai, Anne-Sophie Nanki. Camera
(color, widescreen): Georges Lechaptois. Editor: Nicolas Le Du.
With: Souad Arsane, Inas Chanti, Sidi Mejai, Mehdi Dahmane, Elis Gardiole,
Loubna Abidar, Baya Kasmi, Younes Moktari.