The Art of Sex

Sequin in a Blue Room (Samuel Van Grinsven, 2019)
Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (John Maybury, 1998)
Jumbo (Zoé Wittock, 2020)
Postcards from London (Steve McLean, 2018)
Théo et Hugo dans le même bateau (Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo, Theo and Hugo, Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, 2016)

I think three of these films were distributed by Peccadillo Pictures, a distributor of gay-themed films of varying quality. These were at the better end of the scale, beginning with Sequin, the story of sixteen-year-old Sequin’s (Conor Leach) conflicting search for anonymous sex with older men and for the attractive man he met at the orgy at the private and mysterious The Blue Room. Unfortunately, one of his hook-ups is with B (Ed Wightman), who wants more than a one-night stand. The narrative mutates into something closer to thriller, but feels a bit disjointed. Unlike Théo & Hugo, there doesn’t seem to be any concern about HIV.

I feel I must have seen Maybury’s biopic Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, but I have no memory of doing so. East End petty criminal George Dyer (Daniel Craig) almost literally drops into the lap of Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi) and they start a Troubled Relationship as artist and muse. Of course, I know how it ends. Jacobi is as captivating as always and Craig marks himself as an actor to watch – he must have just done Our Friends in the North, and I hope he can make more interesting choices freed of Bond. There are some wonderful character actors as Bacon’s circle – Adrian Scarborough as Bacon’s future-biographer Daniel Farson and Jarman alumnus Karl Johnson as London photographer John Deakin and Tilda Swinton unrecognizable as The Colony Room owner Muriel Belcher. The production has to pastiche Bacon’s style, as the Estate refused image rights. This works better than it has any right to.

I suspect Bacon would have approved of the conceit at the heart of Jumbo: Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant) falls in love with a new theme park ride. Not, I should add, in a can’t wait for another go on the dodgems kind of way, but in a hydraulic fluid, nuts and bolts kind of way. Her mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) and boss (Bastien Bouillon) are horrified and sceptical, but her potential new stepfather (Sam Louwyck) is the most open minded. It’s easier to watch than other objectophilic films – I’m thinking the Tetsuo sequence and a film which toured with Tetsuo with a car-human hybrid. On the other hand, the final twenty seconds blow into and feel like a 1980s comedy. The film does leave a Todorovian doubt as to whether Jeanne is deluded or the ride is sentient.

I can remember the posters for Post Cards from America (1994), but not whether I’ve seen it. This belated follow-up (a quarter of a century!) is a splendid, mannered comedy, in which Essex boy Jim (Harris Dickinson) runs away to Soho and falls in with – not escorts, they don’t like the term – a group of art raconteurs who talk to clients about paintings after sex. Jim rapidly becomes obsessed with Caravaggio, but is useless as an entrepreneur, and tries his hand at being a muse. Meanwhile, his Stendhal Syndrome emerges as something that could be exploited. Much of the comedy comes from this invented world of art, commerce and sex, and the consistent economy it imagines, but also the mismatch between sex work and intellectual discourse (although that reveals prejudice). Caravaggio – probable murderer, possible homosexual, user of pimps, sex workers and other members of the underground as models – is inspired, as is the Baconesque artist Jim muses for. There’s also hints that things are not what they quite seem, but it’s a fun ride and I laughed out loud.

I’m a little surprised I don’t recall a fuss about Théo & Hugo – there’s only a handful of certified films with men with full erections outside of pornography, and this is an addition to that list. In fact, there’s several, in the twenty-minute orgy that opens the film. Intern Théo (Geoffrey Couët) visits the cellar of a Parisian gay club and, whilst he may be distracted by other sex acts, he only has eyes for the notary Hugo (François Nambot). After they have unprotected sex together and decide to hang out – but they realise they need to visit a sexual health clinic. We might be pushing this to be a romantic comedy, but it is perhaps a comedy of remarriage – why did we stop fucking? – as the always talkative Hugo envisions their decades together and the more taciturn Théo wants to be alone. They wander through night-time Paris, with just a hint of Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), a nod to Orpheus and Eurydice and I suspect hints of Jacques Demy.

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