Friday, February 27, 2015

“The Smell Of Us”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening of “The Smell Of Us”, a French drama by Larry Clark at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Film Comment Selects” series.


When a pair of teenage skateboarders take a job as escorts, what impact will this have on their personal life?


Math and JP (Lukas Ionesco and Hugo Behar-Thinières) are teenagers who live in Paris and spend much of their day skateboarding with friends; nights, however, are spent working as escorts – their customers are generally either gay men or old women. While they may find the work objectionable, it is also quite lucrative.  Escorting keeps the boys in nice clothes, an abundant supply of drugs and, of course, the latest model skateboard. The lure of money, however, is wearing a little thin; after a while of being used and abused by clients, the boys find escorting considerably less glamorous than anticipated.

Complicating matters is the fact that JP is gay while Math is not – or at least, that’s what he claims. JP is falling in love with Math; while Math considers JP to be a good friend, he doesn’t go that way and thus rebuffs his friend’s advances. This, of course, frustrates JP to no end; JP refusing to stop coming on to him is equally frustrating to Math. Due to their circumstances however, they remain close because they can relate to each other’s predicament. One thing that makes the job less repugnant to Math is that a number of clients offer him drugs or alcohol, which he uses to self-medicate to get through a “date”.

Eventually, JP’s life starts unraveling even further when his father and stepmother learn of his work. JP’s father is enraged when he discovers what his son is up to; JP, in turn, is furious at his stepmother because upon finding out about the boy’s work, she informed her husband without first consulting JP. Between his unrequited love for Math and a home situation that has become unmanageable, JP falls into a deep depression and winds up seeking revenge on his stepmother. But when JP finally confronts her, will he actually be able to carry out his plan or will a cooler mind prevail in the end?


When there is a film with such a curious title (any bets on which critic is going to call “The Smell Of Us” something like “We Stink”?), it’s basically setting itself up for some nasty jokes. However, director Larry Clark, who brought us “Kids” 20 years ago, has delivered such an unpleasant and unsavory work that’s uncomfortable to watch on multiple levels, jokes about its title may wind up being the least of its problems. Clark continues his voyeuristic, borderline pedophilic obsession with the sex lives of adolescents and has precious little of value to show for everyone’s efforts. In some ways, the story feels somewhat schizophrenic because it appears to start off in one direction, then goes another way.

Its story is about as good a place as any to start. As a movie, “The Smell Of Us” seems very episodic and feels like a film in search of a plot. Initially, we are introduced to this gang of idiots and are set up to believe we are about to follow the individual exploits of each one. Instead, two of them – the young escorts – suddenly become the focal point of the motion picture; the justification for this appears to be merely so that Clark could shoot some rather provocative (and realistic) sex scenes. “The Smell Of Us” has more the look and feel of kiddie porn that hopelessly tries to fob itself off as art.

Following the screening was an interview with Diane Rouxel, who played Marie in the movie; since her English was a little shaky, an interpreter translated on her behalf. Initially an art school student, she didn’t have acting experience prior to shooting “The Smell Of Us”. She loved the script Clark originally gave her; however, when seeing the finished product, Rouxel said she was quite upset because the film turned out to be drastically different from the screenplay. One of the things she found very disconcerting during the shoot was the fact that Clark would frequently veer off the script and improvise scenes and dialog; this was particularly awkward in some of the graphic sex scenes.  

The Smell of Us (2014) on IMDb

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