An Affair to Dismember

Post Coitum cuts to heart of afterglow crash 'n' burn

The title Post Coitum derives, presumably, from the ancient Latin aphorism "post coitum omne animal triste"--every creature is sad after sex. The creature with which this French film concerns itself is Diane, a married, 40ish book editor played by Brigitte RoYan, who also co-wrote and directed.

This attractive woman's midlife crisis takes the form of studly civil engineer Emilio (Boris Terral), who's about half her age. She dives into a torrid affair with him, which consumes her to the point that she begins to neglect her family and her career. Her attempts to conceal it from her lawyer husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais) grow increasingly halfhearted.

Then Emilio dumps her, heading off to a job in Africa, and she quickly plunges into an obsessive depression. She's in such a funk that she can't even bring herself to care when the patient, long-suffering Philippe gives up in disgust and leaves her as well, taking their two teenage sons with him. She just lies around the apartment, haunted by the specter of her departed boy toy. The only person she doesn't alienate is Francois (Nils Tavernier), the young writer through whom she met Emilio, and who has been drawing on her experiences vicariously for his new book.

Who hasn't been there? The peculiar misery of an unrequited or lost love would be impossible to explain if it weren't unnecessary to explain. The very universality of the experience compounds it; because it's a pain common to everyone, and because it is generally so survivable, its capacity to throw a wrench into every aspect of a person's life is often dismissed.

It doesn't help matters that, what with modern society's comforts and securities, unrequited love is one of the few personal sources that middle- and upper-class artists are likely to have left to draw on for drama. Where, for instance, would American youth or slacker comedy be without young white boys mooning over the girls who dumped them or don't know they exist?

When you're going through love withdrawal, of course, you can't take it lightly, even if, on a rational level, you fully realize that you should. Even the knowledge that it will pass isn't a comfort: It implies that you're giving up on the love. When someone close to you is going through it, however, sooner or later it's either funny or it's irritating.

At its respective best and worst, Post Coitum is both. RoYan's directorial style is abrupt, jagged, and full of jump cuts and scraps of flash-forward that don't pay off until late in the film. While this approach has a certain forcefulness and prevents the picture from slowing down, it doesn't take us very far inside Diane's character. Early on we remain concerned observers, but our concern eventually is replaced by amusement, which probably is RoYan's intention, and then by annoyance, which probably is not. Diane's long depression grates on the nerves; we're sick of this woman long before the finale, a sort of intercession by the god Apollo.

None of this is meant to disparage the acting. RoYan's fine, naturalistic performance keeps the maudlinness at bay, and Chesnais, in the archetypical (and oh-so-French) role of the accepting cuckold, manages not to tug too insistently at our heartstrings, which makes his character all the more appealing. Though his Philippe is not unattractive, you can see how Diane would lose interest in this comfortably bland fellow, through no real fault of his own.

Terral, though his olive skin and curly dark-brown mop are impressive, isn't otherwise very distinctive. But there is one first-rate supporting performance: Francoise Arnoul as the elderly woman who Philippe defends after she stabs her long-unfaithful husband in the throat. This act is one of several unexpected bursts of violence in the film, which have a greater impact than the sex scenes. In fact, Post Coitum's biggest disappointment is that it's not an especially erotic picture--we aren't made to understand what Diane has lost. It's too much post, and not enough coitum.

Post Coitum
Directed by Brigitte RoYan; with Brigitte RoYan and Boris Terral.
Unrated.

 
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