Behind the cameras, performance anxiety besets the stage

Times Staff Writer

Sex was anything but funny in Catherine Breillat’s aptly titled “Anatomy of Hell,” her recent exercise in gyno-gothic horror. But “Sex Is Comedy,” which was based on Breillat’s own experiences directing sex scenes, is equally true to its title. Produced two years ago, when the world was in a better mood, Breillat’s first foray into comedy is playful, whip-smart and far breezier in both tone and look than the stylized gender polemics she’s known for.

“Sex Is Comedy” finds Breillat both on a movie set and in a Zen mood; sexual play and sexual politics, art and manipulation curl into each other like yin and yang. Jeanne (Anne Parrillaud), a film director, is trying to squeeze a couple of passionate love scenes from a pair of actors (Roxane Mesquida, reprising her sex scene from the 2001 movie “Fat Girl,” and Gregoire Colin) who can’t stand each other. They’re not the only ones. Jeanne, who is involved in a platonic flirtation with her young, smart assistant director, Leo (Ashley Wanninger), can’t stand her vain, manipulative leading man either. He makes her job -- which requires endless flattery -- nearly impossible. One minute, he won’t remove his socks for the sex scene (“I’m a fetishist. If I take off my socks I think I’ll die”), the next, he’s prancing around in a sweater and a prosthetic penis.

The lovely Parrillaud fairly crackles with sly intelligence and humor as a tough androgyne willing herself into a game of sexual cat and mouse with her handpicked tormentor. She wonders how she’s gotten herself into this situation, and despairs of getting out of it unscathed. But as her cameraman reminds her, it was ever thus. “You always choose your actors for their looks,” he tells her. “You look at them for consumption.” But Jeanne sees it differently. “You choose actors because you love them. Then they get their revenge.”



‘Sex Is Comedy’


MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Reluctant sex scenes, partial nudity, prosthetic nudity

Anne Parillaud...Jeanne

Gregoire Colin...The Actor

Roxane Mesquida...The Actress

Ashley Wanninger...Leo


IFC Films presents a Flach-CB Film production. Coproduction Arte France Cinema. In Association with France Television Images 2. With the participation of Canal+. Produced by Jean-Francois LePetit. Associate Producer Antonio da Cunha Telles. Written and directed by Catherine Breillat. . Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.