The privacy extended by the French media to the sexual gallivanting of President Xavier Hollander is something we neither understand nor tolerate this side of the channel. I remember in the final days of John Major’s regime there was a sex scandal almost every week and the vain plea of the Tory MP caught with his trousers down and invariably photoed in a fair isle jumper by a country gate with his family to request privacy. Some hope I thought.
This difference is apparent in the two cinemas. Whilst the British audience was creasing up over Barbara Windsor’s boobs and Kenneth Williams ‘ campness in the Carry On films, Roger Vadim was making God Created Woman with Brigitte Bardot. Ironically one of Bardot’s early roles was in Doctor at Sea. In one of Jean Luc Godard’s more watchable moves Le Mepris, made in 1962, from the Alberto Moravia novel, Bardot – the wife of a scriptwriter played by Michel Piccoli – was touching her naked body, asking her husband if that pleased him. Bardot went onto to become a international star and sex symbol, retiring aged 37, representing the free sex spirit of those times. This is not to denigrate the British cinema, which in the early sixties produced some hard hitting social reality, showcasing the talents of northern actors like Tom Courtenay (Billy Liar) and Albert Finney in Saturday Night Sunday Morning. The Angry Silence, featured militant trade unionism, and Victim, the blackmailing of homosexuals.
Yesterday afternoon, suffering from the debilitating viral cough that is doing the rounds, I managed to avoid my family duties in babysitting the grandchildren, imposed by Gail, and settled down to Nathalie, a 2003 film starring Gerald Depardieu, Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Beart. A wife Catherine (Fanny Ardant) discovers her husband Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is unfaithful. She visits a brothel and engages a prostitute Marlene (Emmanuelle Beart) to bump into and jump on her husband at his favourite cafe. She is to have an affaire with him and report back on it to her. The menage a trois is a staple force in French cinema and the relationship between Catherine and Marlene/Nathalie (the name given to her by Catherine for the purposes of the affaire) is as interesting as the sexual exploits the latter describes. The film has a clever twist which I did not see as, like many a full-blooded man, I was rather hoping for a female coupling which, as we all know, the French do explicitly.
Recent French cinema tends to be both metro and bourgeois. Catherine is a gynaecologist, Bernard a businessman. There are the regular dinner party scenes without which no French film is complete. Nonetheless, it bravely describes a sexless marriage and the temptations both parties in it experience in an erotic and engaging way which the British quite simply cannot do. One theory is that there is an integral primness in the British sexual psyche, whereby they are interested in sex as long as it involves others, hence the long running farce No Sex Please We re British, whilst the French, being more sensual and less inhibited, are prepared to engage directly and, in the case of their cinema, complicitly.