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I was a little nervous about reviewing this film. This is an independent film from french director, whose name my American tongue is going to butcher so I’ll let Cunning Minx, who speaks French, say it for me: Isabelle Broué, also known as Isa Lutine. This movie is pretty recent, having been released in 2016 having been completed in 2016 and due to premiere on French screens in April of 2018. I don’t usually like what I call « artsy » films and I also am *quite* Ameri-centric so I have a really hard time getting into films made in other countries with other film conventions like differences in pacing and music cues and composition.
What made me nervous is that I contacted the director herself to ask permission to view and review this film. I’ve had other filmmakers reach out to me and ask me to review their films, and when I saw them, I thought they were terrible but I felt really bad about reviewing them knowing that they would hear first-hand my opinions of their film. These really old or really big films that I typically review are made by people who will never hear my opinion, so I feel a bit of freedom in being critical because I’m pretty confident that I’m not going to really affect the people involved. Now, as with my practice in affecting different tones depending on who I’m talking to, that doesn’t mean that I *won’t* be honest about a film just because the artists involved will hear it, it just means that I might be a little kinder in the delivery of my criticism.
So I watched Lutine with a little bit of trepidation, but I found myself surprised to feel really invested in the characters and the outcome of the film. The director, Isa, describes her movie as: [inserted audio of director description from Poly Weekly interview of a film that is a fictional documentary where the audience can’t tell what part is fiction and what isn’t]. For the full interview, which I recommend listening to, visit polyweekly.com/ and listen to episode 541 French Filmmaker Isa Lutine.
I think this may be one of those cultural differences. She considers her movie to be a comedy, I’m assuming, because of the absurdism of blurring the lines between fiction and documentary reality, but it’s not what a typical American might think of when we think of the word « comedy », with our strong roots in slapstick and hilarity, as opposed to absurdism. I didn’t feel the way I usually feel watching what I consider a « comedy »; when I watched this film, I felt more like when I watch a drama. However, that’s not a criticism, I think that’s more of an observance of cultural differences because I still really liked it.
When I was taking film in college, a couple of film buddies and I got together to form a production company, under which all our class projects were produced (and then later, we intended to actually go commercial with our company, but we ended up all going in different directions after school). The first big film we tried to make that wasn’t a class project was a mockumentary. We wrote a script for a fake documentary a la Spinal Tap that followed a group of college students making their first film, and we played an exaggerated version of ourselves in the film. So it was a little bit like trying to look into one of those repeating mirrors, where we just kept going down like a fractal. Except the movie that our documentary-selves was making was not a documentary, but a romantic comedy.
But we had actors who were playing actors who were hired to perform in a romantic comedy – so, like Lisa was a friend that we got to play « Ariel » who was an actress who was hired to play « Linda », the romantic lead in our rom-com. « Ariel » was directed by a group of « film students », who we, my buddies and I, were playing, while we were actual film students. It was all very circular and hilarious as we played up various personality traits to absurdist levels, like the time we blew up a section of a suburb because our Technical Director thought our rom-com needed more explosions, and the argument that our rom-com characters get into that required a « plate-apult » – a catapult intended to launch a dinner plate at the male actor’s head at a speed of 88 miles per hour.
So this sort of recursive, Inception-like story-telling holds a special place in my heart. But that also means that I might be especially critical of a film that doesn’t do it well. This movie, I think, does this well. The blurring between fact and fiction makes this film feel almost Memento-like with an unreliable narrator but in this rabbit-hole sort of Inception way. Films with unreliable narrators can be difficult to follow, and that’s the part that makes this film a « comedy », I think, as we, the audience, are never sure which part of this is fiction and which part of this is reality so the whole thing becomes completely absurd.
Now, onto the meat of the film. This was definitely a poly film, as the whole point was to be a documentary about polyamory. It’s highly unlikely that any filmmaker would attempt a documentary OR a mockumentary about polyamory and not be at least sympathetic to polyamory. It’s just not a big enough subject, in my opinion, to attract anyone’s attention for making a documentary film that explicitly uses the words and the communities, unless that person has some kind of personal connection. So I was at least pretty confident that this was not going to be an outsider making fun of polyamory (insiders poking fun at ourselves is a totally different, and hilariously acceptable, situation), or someone who was openly antagonistic about the subject and wanting to use the film as a vehicle to moralize about polyamory.
But something that *could* have been problematic is in the viewpoints that were chosen to describe polyamory. In the US, there are a *ton* of polys who set themselves up as « leaders » but who do polyamory in one of the ways that I label as « wrong » – i.e. in ways that are harmful and/or ineffective at leading to successful, long-term, ethical, empowering relationships. In almost every interview and media event that I watch, I end up yelling at my screen that polyamory is not something that « couples » do, it’s something that people do, that not all polys « open up » existing monogamous relationships and some of us started out as single people, and to the reporters to stop giving platforms to people who do couple-centric, hierarchical, rules-based descriptions of polyamory so that the newbies who are introduced to the concept from this medium won’t start out at a deficit thinking that this is the way you get into it.
None of that happened here. Everyone that was interviewed gave very practical, sensible soundbites about polyamory. It starts right out with a poly meeting where the third speaker talks about how reassuring it is to not be the only person in his partner’s life, as opposed to all the benefits we receive to having 500 people all dedicated to us, servicing our « needs », being the receptacles of our extreme libidos, stuff like that. When we meet our first poly « expert », she talks about each of them having their own lovers, not about « opening up » or « sharing » someone, and about the dangers of « passion » that I might refer to as NRE (New Relationship Excitement or New Relationship Energy).
Then we actually spend a long time setting up the premise of the film, which is watching spontaneous conversations, then watching Isa construct scenes based on those conversations, and then watching the re-film of those conversations into a better, more editable scene. Or, are they really spontaneous conversations? We don’t know! That’s the point. After seeing how everything is set up to be fiction, we even start to suspect the original scenes of being part of the fiction too.
Eventually we meet Meta, a polyamorist, who is asked about the feminist aspect of polyamory. She unambiguously declares « yes, it’s totally feminist, because everyone has the same rights. No one takes any liberties that are denied to the other. For a man, being polyamorous means giving up male privilege. » I think this negates the whole Unicorn Hunting thing by implicitly acknowledging that a woman has the same rights to choose her own partners of her own orientation preferences as the men do, whereas Unicorn Hunting tends to defend it’s « fairness » by insisting both of the male/female partners « share » a woman. People equate « sameness » with « fairness », and those words are totally not interchangeable. Having things exactly the same is not necessarily « fair ». If a woman is straight or bisexual, limiting her to only women partners (and the same partner as her male partner at that!) is not « fair » just because it’s the « same » as her straight male partner’s options.
It’s also rare in that, a lot of times when people have labeled polyamory as « feminist », they tend to not get the definition right, instead describing more of a matriarchal culture that is basically patriarchy in reverse. When, of course, that’s not what feminism means. Having a gendered term like « feminism » doesn’t mean that it seeks to replace one gender’s authority with another gender, it means to elevate an oppressed gender to an equal level so that there are no more oppressed genders, which is why it singles out a gender at all rather than just going by « equal-ism » or whatever. So I was thrilled to hear them not shy away from the term « feminist » and to define it as « equality », not « women get to be in charge ».
Later, more words of wisdom from Meta. She says « polyamory is not about couples. It deconstructs the very notion. » When asked if she is not a « couple » with her partner, she says « if a couple is two people, we’re several couples, » and she points out the connection between the non-sexual metamours as its own relationship as well. Later, we see a scripted conversation where Isa and her boyfriend are talking about him being interested in another woman, and Isa wants to meet her. The boyfriend asks if she wants to meet her or sleep with her, and then accuses her of wanting to sleep with the same person he’s dating as a form of controlling everyone and everything in the relationship. I think this is a pointed but subtle jab at Unicorn Hunting again, even though I don’t know if it was deliberate or not.
This film even discusses the whole poly vs. swinging debate with, what I feel, is just the right approach – that poly and swinging « are inherently different concepts but not mutually exclusive » and swinging being about recreational sex while polyamory is about autonomy in relationships, and how a person can be either or both, as well as the ever-salacious question about group sex – it’s not fundamentally a part of polyamory, you can have it or not as you all choose. And, it touches on one of my own catch phrases (not that it got it from me, but it’s something I say), how the real trick to polyamory is not in feeling love for multiple people, but in how you deal with your *partner* wanting others.
I found this film to be touching and ridiculous and poignant and refreshing and real in its fantasy world.
Because this is an independent film without a production studio behind it, accessing this film is a little different than most of the movies I review, but I do recommend doing what you can to watch this movie. You can’t see it on Netflix or in major theaters. You can, however, contact the director at www.LutineLeFilm.com and ask permission to host a viewing party. The requirements are that your viewing party needs to be a public or semi-public screening with around 20 or more people and advertised on social media, to create online buzz for her film. It’s entirely crowdfunded and advertised by word-of-mouth, so it really needs for lots of people to talk about it for a distributor to think it’s worth investing in the film.
When you have interest in a screening or viewing party, contact Isa and let her know when and where it will be held. Film festivals charge an entrance fee to submit an entry, so one of the best ways we can support polyamory in the arts is to financially support polyamorous artists. If you can charge your audience $5 or so, for an audience of 20 or more people, that will help Isa submit this film into international film festivals, to bring the concept of polyamory to a broad, world-wide audience. And, considering, as I said earlier, that this movie doesn’t idolize the couple « opening up », but instead highlights the concepts of feminism, autonomy, and freedom, I would very much like to see more films like this getting attention rather than our typical Unicorn Hunting films and TV shows that somehow manage to find cable sponsors and Hollywood producers.
After you contact her with the size, date, and location of your proposed viewing party, Isa will send you a link to a watermarked version of the film that you can download and then show in whatever medium you’re using for your screening. This helps track down copyright violations – again with the whole supporting poly artists thing. The director will even join your screening remotely through Skype after the viewing to take questions, if you’d like. After seeing the movie, if you can actually write out a review on real dead-tree paper to include on her website (in your own language), that would also be welcome.
So, definitely poly, I found it engaging, and I recommend supporting poly in the arts and this poly art in particular by hosting screenings and talking about the film on social media.