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'Porn Theater' viewed without prejudice

Director Jacques Nolot shows the goings-on at an adult movie house without judging them.

October 17, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

In "Porn Theater," writer-director Jacques Nolot treats the sexual activities at an adult movie house on a Paris side street near Montmartre as an expression of the eternal human comedy. He views the participants with a degree of compassion and understanding customarily found in a Jean Renoir film.

At first impression, the customers at the dingy La Chatte a Deux Tetes (The Cat With Two Heads) theater seem at once funny and sad, but by the film's end most emerge as quietly brave, and its transvestites and transsexuals as heroic as well. Considering the activities going on inside the movie house, and that it is the film's sole setting, "Porn Theater" is quite an achievement, both in its graceful fluidity and as that rare instance in which a film takes an illuminating, nonjudgmental look at behavior many would dismiss as repugnant.

The quest for anonymous sex, and in some instances affection as well, is fraught with peril, mainly at the cost of personal dignity, but what is most striking about the customers at the theater is the prevalent atmosphere of mutual respect. The theater attracts all kinds of men, of varying races, ages and appearance, and is a relatively safe meeting place for gay men, transvestite hookers and male hustlers.

Since the theater is dark, the sex, while sometimes explicit, is scarcely erotic. Ironically, the theater plays straight porn, which some of the patrons find reassuring. The film's key sequences take place outside at the box office, where Nolot himself plays a customer who hasn't patronized the place in a while but whom the cashier (Vittoria Scognamiglio) is glad to see.

She's a handsome, earthy woman in her 40s; he's a sophisticated, nice-looking man of 50, and their conversation reveals them to be vastly experienced and philosophical sexual adventurers. The theater's young projectionist (Sebastien Viala) hangs around the box office a lot.

Their conversation allows Nolot's character to comment on the realities of life in the age of AIDS, and safe sex is the rule, not the exception, at La Chatte a Deux Tetes.

"Porn Theater" is not for everyone, but the open-minded should find it enlightening as well as entertaining.


`Porn Theater'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Some explicit sex; adult themes.

Jacques Nolot...50-year-old man

Vittoria Scognamiglio...Cashier

Sebastien Viala...Projectionist

A Strand Releasing presentation of an Elia Films production with the participation of CNC. Writer-director Jacques Nolot. Producer Pauline Duhault. Cinematographer Germain Desmoulins. Editor Sophie Reine. Music Nino. Art director Patrick Durand. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A., (310) 478-6379.

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