Post Coitum, Animal Triste (aka After Sex): Brigitte Rouan’s Tale of Sexual Politics, Co-Starring Francoise Arnoul

(French Romantic Melodrama)

Cannes Film Fest (Un Certain Regard) 1997–As was evident in her impressive feature directorial debut, Outremer, sexual politics is paramount in the work of gifted French director and actress Brigitte Rouan.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

After Sex
After Sex FilmPoster.jpeg

The original French title, “After Coitus, Sad Animal,” alludes to post-coital tristesse.

In her second film, Rouan offers a distinctly female perspective on the very French sub-genre of amour fou, centering on the passionate but impossible love affair between a middle-aged married woman and a much younger engineer.

There shouldlbe a small theatrical audience in the U.S. for Rouan’s accomplished, beautifully acted film, which is at once serious and comic, dark and high-spirited.

Diane (Rouan) is an attractive fortysomething Parisian, a successful editor in a small publishing house and a happily married wife raising two teenagers. Both professional and domestic lives have settled into a stable and a bit boring routine until she unexpectedly meets Emilio (Boris Terral), an extremely handsome engineer who’s half her age.

In the manner of all heroines of amour fou, Diane plunges head long into a fervent, all-consuming affair, based on her belief that it may be her last chance to feel “truly alive and desirable,” as she says. Neglecting her responsibilities at work and at home, she spends most of her time with Emilio in bed (title describes the body’s physical position after sexual intercourse). Predictably, Emilio leaves and Diane descends into a depression that perilously threatens her job, her family–and her very mental health.

Throughout the affair, Diane is engaged in an intriguing relationship with a young novelist, Francois (Nils Tavernier), whose problematic second book she midwifes when he experiences a creative block. Their bond is based on inverse correlation of their states of mind: She is at her happiest when Francois is at his most miserable, and eventually he is the one who provides her salvation, facilitating her return to normal life.

Illuminating Diane’s affair is a subplot, which sees her hubby lawyer defending Madame Lepluche (former movie star Francoise Arnoul), a woman who killed her adulterous husband with a carving fork after living together for 43 years.

To Rouan’s credit, Philippe is not presented as a caricature–he is not the typical cuckolded husband treated with ridicule. Though deeply hurt and suffering, he continues to love Diane, patiently waiting for her to regain her senses.

A prevalent sub-genre in French cinema, amour fou has mostly been looked at from a male point of view (in the work of Truffaut, Blier and others). Providing a uniquely female gaze, Rouan stresses with brutal honesty the vast age difference, the contrast between the two bodies when they make love, the sight of Diane examining her wrinkles and sagging breasts in front of the mirror. Most refreshingly, Rouan avoids any domestic scandals or break-up scenes.

A distinguished actress, Rouan, who also co-wrote the script, holds the entire film together. In her ecstatic, multi-shaded performance, she embodies credibly a mature woman, who had simply forgotten the sheer physical delight of love-making, and whose state of euphoria, which is equal parts joy and hysteria, endangers every aspect of her life. An added strength of this film is its deviating from previous French or American crazy love stories, showing Diane to be too smart a woman to commit suicide, descend into madness or kill her lover.

The denouement, which is emotionally satisfying, has an open-ended quality, hinting that Diane will probably resume her habitual existence, but that the affair with Emilio, with all its devastating and debilitating effects, may not be the last one in her life.

Credits

An Ognon Pictures Pinou production, in association with Canal Plus, the National Center for Cinematography and the Gan Foundation. Produced by Humbert Balsan.
Directed by Brigitte Rouan.
Screenplay, Rouan, Santiago Amigorena, Jean-Louis Richard, Guy Zilberstein, Philippe Le Guay.
Camera, Pierre Dupouey, Arnaud Leguy, Bruno Mistretta; editor, Laurent Rouan; art direction, Roland Deville; costume design, Forence Emir, Marika Ingrato; sound (Dolby), Dominique Vieillard; associate producer, Jean-Francois Rouan; assistant director, Frederic Nicolas; casting, Paula Chevalet, Lissa Pilu, Claire Le Saint.

Running time: 97 min.

Cast

Diane Clovier……..Brigitte Rouan
Philippe Clovier…Patrick Chesnais
Emilio……………..Boris Terral
Francois Narou…….Nils Tavernier
Madame Lepluche: Francoise Arnoul

Credits:
Directed by Brigitte Roüan
Produced by Humbert Balsan
Written by Santiago Amigorena, Philippe Le Guay, Jean-Louis Richard, Brigitte Roüan
Guy Zilberstein
Cinematography Pierre Dupouey
Edited by Laurent Roüan

Release date: August 29, 1997

Running time: 97 minutes