"sex, lies and videotape" is exactly about what it says, but frankly, the film could have been titled "all about sex" since the lies are all about sex, and don't get me started on the content of these videotapes. Steven Soderbergh Golden Palm winner, and game changer on the field of independent film-making, is certainly one of the most intelligent and insightful depiction of sex as a 'relationship issue' as any other movie, that it does so without being graphic at all is a credit to its maturity and straight-forwardness.
And "Sex is overrated" is one of the many golden nuggets the Oscar-nominated script contains, even more fascinating since the line is echoed by an admittance of impotence, a weakness seldom confessed by men, but which creates the strangest though slightly anticipated bond between Graham (James Spader) and Ann (Andie McDowell). She's an introverted and complex woman, he's an old college friend of her husband John (Peter Gallagher), who just came to town. At first, Ann is angry and shares her bitterness with her therapist, expecting to be the passive observer of boring dinners where the two reminisce about girl and football.
But while John is your typical cocky and womanizing lawyer with suspenders in his shirt and tricks under his sleeve, Graham has no job, no house, he's a long-haired young looking man, oddly detached from the casual responsibilities but weirdly interested in people. Graham asks the most private questions to Ann at their very first encounter. She detects his awkwardness but we suspect she's glad that he's not like John. They talk about marriage and she says she enjoys the security of it, for all his defaults, John is a good provider, but there's something shy and self-conscious in the way she says it that reminded me of Liv Ullman's in "Scenes of a Marriage".
In Bergman's masterpiece, I never forgot that line about marriage only working if "fidelity went without saying", as if the colossal edifice had to be rooted on blind obviousness. But every film that involved dysfunctional couples proved that no matter how supposedly strong they were, marriages failed because of things taken for granted, things that went without saying. And the first signal that the relationship between Ann is John isn't just that John is having an affair with Ann's own sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) but that even Ann instantly opens herself to Graham.
Remember that exchange between Homer Simpson and the new neighbor, Ruth Powers, when he's tiptoeing around to ask a private question, and she eases the task by saying that she would like to be fixed up with someone, because she has "normal appetites". Homer gets the message but still makes sure she's not talking about food... twice. Sex isn't the easiest subject to handle but once it's done, it becomes the key to open the Pandora box of a marriage,. But the film doesn't explore the theme of infidelity rather than the way 'sex' is used to as a mean to convey or conceal the sources of your own insecurities, it doesn't reduce people to sexual attitudes as much as it expands the value of sex as an existential catalysis.
Ann is an over-anxious person whose mind is obsessed by situations she can't have the control on, she's full of empathy and therefore can't express any desire unless it's directed toward someone else, she's not frigid but she's not attracted enough to John to satisfy him. John and Cynthia are more 'common' lovers, John is lawyer, a running gag informs that it's the first lowest form before liars, he screws people and dominates his wife by having sex with another woman, it's part of his persona. So is Cynthia whose ego is flattered as if she was finally getting the satisfaction of indirectly owning her sister, like the family slut winning over the goody-goody sister.
Still, this is not a film that invites us to condemn people, it only tells the magnitude of sexuality as what is says about our inners struggles, our desires, our weaknesses, things that warm, block or drive us. And the most fascinating character in this quartet is Graham. At first, he says he's impotent but by saying he can't have sex, he's allowed to record sexual confessions of women on videotapes which gives him considerably more power, status-wise. Ann manages to confront him in a scene that is a masterpiece of writing, pushing Graham in the corner of his odd fantasies and unable to answer for his lust... and admit that there's something indeed pathetic about him, but not to the point of not needing help. He might be his first 'victim'.
Steven Soderbergh's writing is one of great subtlety and realism, it only sins in the portrayal of the husband John, he strikes as a two-dimensional character compared to the three others, and the way he gets his comeuppance doesn't do justice to the originality of the movie, there's one 'detail' you could see coming and it didn't quite work but apart from small little flaws, this is a remarkable portrayal of adults caught in tormenting relationships and trying to find their way to slip through the net. It is also served by fine performances especially from James Spader who won the Prize at Cannes Festival, and Laura San Giacomo. This film should have had the same resonance as Mike Nichols' "Closer" in 2004 with two acting nods for Spader and San Giacomo, they're the best thing about the film.
Now, I'm not the fondest on remakes but I suspect the content of the script is so relevant and universal it would fit the digital era as well, I can imagine a "sex, lies and Internet" tailor-made for the 2010's, where lovers, chatters, deceived husbands would drown their sorrow by sharing their insecurities to the first listening 'ear'.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape
Action / Drama
Sex, Lies, and Videotape
Action / Drama
Ann is married to John, who is having an affair with her sister Cynthia. Ann's a quiet type and unwilling to let herself go. When John's old friend, Graham, shows up, all their lives change. Graham likes to videotape interviews with women.
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July 11, 2016 at 02:45 AM