Sadness of Sex, The

Original and often provocative, “The Sadness of Sex,” a multi-media performance piece about the mysterious magic of love, is a demanding but not always easy or enjoyable film to watch. Excessive MTV-like style and consciously disjointed narrative undercut the emotional impact of the dense material, which is most appropriate for mature audiences who have experienced the bitter-sweet taste of love and its aftermath. Commercial prospects for disturbing film are skimpy, though it should travel the international festival road, perhaps even play the arthouse circuit.

Comprised of fifteen vignettes of varying lengths, “The Sadness of Sex” is a poignant comedy about love, or more specifically about the cyclical phases of courtship, romance, passion–and the heart-wrenching break-up, which is the inevitable fate of first love. Exquisitely executed piece, enacted on stage with live audience, assumes the nature of a surreal odyssey that is wry and witty, manic yet neurotic, profound yet childishly silly.

Centering on the experience of a middle-aged man, the film chronicles the inner journey of a hopeless romantic as he recalls in a stream-of-consciousness his eternal search for true love. Interweaving the logic of a dream with that of everyday life, the monologue moves effortlessly and seamlessly from one realm of reality to another. Barry Yourgrau, who wrote the original book and collaborated on the script with helmer Rupert Wainwright, dives headfirst into the exhilaration, craziness and contradictions that mark modern sexual relations between men and women.

Bittersweet philosophy is expressed by the film's motif: “First we'll be happy, then we'll be sad,” which should bear meaning for every person who's fallen in love. A major side benefit of rich recitation is a celebration of the power–and limitations–of language at conveying the madness and frivolity, pain and joy, of being in love.

Each of the fifteen vignettes is directed in a distinct visual style and accompanied by different kind of music. Nonetheless, for fear of boring the viewers with an overly static piece, helmer has gone to the other extreme, bombarding the screen with an incessant parade of images and sounds, in the manner of MTV's fast cutting and pacing. Indeed, as remarkable as the visual style often is, it also has the effect of overwhelming and sometimes drowning the text. It's telling that the most emotionally resonant segments, such as the gorgeously lighted “Elm,” are those that are relatively quieter, enabling actor Wilson to strut his impressive voice and story-telling skills without constantly cutting away from him.

That said, meticulous attention has gone into every detail of the elaborately mounted production. Tech credits in every department, Franco De Cotiis' production design, Mariska M. Nicholson's costumes, and particularly Andrew Pienaar's lensing and Doug Johnston's sound, are nothing short of stunning.