Review by Sean Boelman
There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding European (especially French) cinema and sex, and Lou Jenet’s Curiosa does no favors to that image. A steamy yet empty exploration of sexual politics, this is one of those films that viewers will wish was as artfully written as it is beautifully shot.
The movie tells the story of the passionate tryst between authors Marie de Régnier and Pierre Louÿs. It’s a pretty basic romance storyline with little in the way of unique and original conflict. The protagonist gets wrapped up into a love triangle with oppression being the main villain as opposed to a more literal one.
As is the case with so many films about women experiencing sexual liberation in other time periods, it’s clear that the intent here is to draw a parallel between the oppression of women’s sexuality by the patriarchy then and now. Jenet and co-writer Raphaëlle Desplechin make a noble attempt in this regard, but this message has been done better in other movies before.
Admittedly, at an hour and fifty minutes in length, the film does begin to grow monotonous at a certain point. If the purpose of the movie was to entirely desensitize the viewer to sexuality, it achieves that by the hour mark, as the sex becomes increasingly passionless despite its attempts at creativity.
The fundamental flaw in this film that prevents it from succeeding is that both of the lead characters aren’t especially likable. It’s hard to buy into a romance that isn’t based in any sort of love or connection beyond the physical, especially when both parties seemingly have no regard for anyone but themselves.
Noémie Merlant is sure to be the biggest draw for this movie among the cinephile community, and she does a good enough job in her role. Granted, she isn’t given much to do other than pose naked, which is disappointing given the character’s literary connection and the talent of the actress. Her chemistry with co-star Niels Schneider is passable but nothing special.
Visually, the film is exquisitely-shot. Jenet has an eye for shooting the sex scenes in a way that doesn’t feel excessive or grossly titilating. There are more than a few sequences in the movie that lean on the formally experimental side, enough to keep the viewer’s interest and also keep this from feeling like a plain period piece.
Curiosa is a solid effort from Lou Jenet that shows she has tremendous potential behind the camera should she work with stronger material. There are other similar films that are more worth your time, but there isn’t anything particularly bad about it, either.
Curiosa is now in theaters and on VOD.