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'Confusion' is sexy, sly and too serious

August 15, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Ilan Duran Cohen's "Confusion of Genders" is certainly sexy, entertaining and provocative -- in several senses of the word -- but it's also tiresome as only a French film can be when everyone in it has only sex and amour on his or her mind and is deadly serious about both. Cohen takes a deadpan approach that is slyly subversive, creating a detached sense of absurdity about human behavior that is dryly amusing, but at the expense of making his characters seem incredibly shallow and diminishing satiric potential.

In a sense Cohen has tapped into some strong emotional chords about parenthood, companionship and love's sustenance in a lonely universe, but has undercut their impact in his determination to make a traditional French-style diversion, slight yet sophisticated.

Pascal Greggory portrays Alain, the film's central character, and is perfectly cast and underplays impressively. His Alain is around 40, and handsome in the deceptively low-key way that serves very well a tireless seducer such as he. He identifies himself as gay but is as apt to pursue women as he is men.

Alain is an attorney in a Paris firm headed by Nathalie Richard's Laurence, who would like to marry him even though he does not reciprocate her love. Alain tells himself he would like to settle down and have children, but for him it is more of a passing longing than a goal.

Even as he and Laurence discuss marriage, Alain is commencing an affair with Christophe (Cyrille Thouvenin), the troubled younger brother of one of his ex-girlfriends. What's more, he becomes sexually and emotionally entangled with a convict, Marc (Vincent Martinez), whose defense he has botched, and Marc's tempestuous girlfriend Babette (Julie Gayet).

Alain's dilemma is that he is sufficiently attractive, wily and persistent to have just about anyone who attracts him and rarely feels any constraints. He achieves his desires with such comparative ease that it is difficult for him to figure out what he wants most.

That most of the people he encounters feel a similar lack of restraint not surprisingly leads to much confusion, frustration and hurt feelings.

"Confusion of Genders" exposes more bodies than souls, which diminishes the possibilities of becoming involved with the characters as individuals. Losing the highly charged ex-con subplot would have allowed Cohen more opportunity to present his key people as more than humorlessly self-absorbed. With sharper focus, Cohen might well have been able to pull off an effective satire.

Richard is arguably as adroit a player as Greggory, but sympathy primarily goes to Thouvenin's less self-centered Christophe.

The film works toward a credible dawning of wisdom and acceptance as the characters try to bring some order to their lives. The irony is that if the people in "Confusion of Genders" exhibited a sense of humor and its accompanying perspective, the film could be taken a little more seriously.


'Confusion of Genders'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Considerable nudity, sex, language

Pascal Greggory...Alain

Nathalie Richard...Laurence

Julie Gayet...Babette

Alain Bashung...Etienne

Vincent Martinez...Marc

Cyrille Thouvenin...Christophe

A Picture This! release of an Alta Loma Films and Fugitive Productions/Haut et Court co-production with the participation of Canal Plus, the National Center of Cinematography, UGC, International and Sofica Sofinergie 5. Director Ilan Duran Cohen. Producer Didier Boujard (Alta Loma Films). Screenplay Cohen and Philippe Lasry. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie. Editor Fabrice Rouaud. Music Jay Jay Johanson. Costumes Barbara Kraft. Production designer Francoise Dupertuis. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue, (323) 655-4010; Playhouse 7, Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; and the University 6, Campus Drive across from UCI, Irvine, (800) FANDANGO No. 143.

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