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Carnal grind

Anonymous sex leads to alienation in Swiss film

If Middle America isn't yet ready for Brokeback Mountain's sensitive cowboys in love, then it probably won't take too kindly to the flagrant display of gay lust in Garçon Stupide.

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Like the French shock cinema of Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl) and Gaspar Noé (Irréversible), Garçon Stupide embellishes its already raunchy tale of gay male hustler Loïc (Pierre Chatagny) with copious illustrations of just what that hustling entails. This includes baguette-sized sexual appliances and the kind of recreational sex where men only find out each others' names afterward, if they bother to ask at all.

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As the brilliance-challenged garçon, 20-year-old Loïc is a pretty, earnest and uneducated boy. But his timidity melts away in the bedrooms of the anonymous hookups he meets while cruising the Internet meat market or the streets of the Swiss city of Lausanne.

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Loïc's entire vaporous, rambling life centers on sex: His new eyebrow piercing suggests an effort to mimic the hip, fashionably detached stance of the men he meets. And when he's not having sex, Loïc is trying to shock or amuse his friend Marie (Natacha Koutchoumov) — a college student who takes pity on Loïc and lets him crash at her place — with details of his bedroom escapades.

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Garçon Stupide doesn't shy away from the extremities of cyber-cruising. Rather, it revels in the gratuitous bacchanalia of discotheque orgies and you-are-there close-up penises. During one sexual interlude, captured with a split-screen effect, his threesome is juxtaposed with the rhythmic movements of the machinery at the Bulle chocolate factory where Loïc punches the clock. In another, the split-screen sex is contrasted with images of the taxidermied and skeletal remains of animals at the natural history museum where Marie works.

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The message is hardly subtle: The sex Loïc engages in is either unfeeling and mechanical, or grotesque and morbid. But the juxtaposition is formally and intellectually shoddy. This fancy-pants editing is just a means for viewers to experience the prurient aspects of Loïc's sex life while feeling intellectually superior to the juxtaposition of his sex life with two-headed lambs and pumping pistons.

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It's a shame director Lionel Baier relies so extensively on cock shock, because those graphic scenes initially give his film a superficial, laddish quality that doesn't do much to advance his portrait of the soulless, despairing grind of anonymous sex.

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And the film school hot-dogging distracts from Loïc, the gooey center of this fluid-filled tale. Loïc's a real heartbreaker, but when he steps out of the bedroom, his manner is shockingly naive, even tragic. Like a puppy dog, Loïc is always clamoring for approval, trying anxiously to keep up as he runs along at people's ankles.

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Loïc grapples with his newly discovered words ("blasphemy," "Impressionism" and even "Hitler") that his friends and lovers bandy about and misuses them abominably, struggling mightily to "pass" as knowledgeable and adult.

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It's clear that sex and hustling is the one arena in which Loïc excels. The physical acrobatics and fleeting connections allow him to coast through life, appearing on an equal footing with his conquests when in reality, he is pitifully immature.

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But those endless hookups also begin to leave him longing for more, for the sensation of love described by one online pickup named "Lionel" (whose voice is provided by the film's director, Baier) who videotapes Loïc, but is never seen on screen. Lionel suggests, both in his refusal to instantly bed Loïc and in his repeated inquiries into Loïc's life and thoughts, that there is a world outside of alienating sex with strangers.

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Baier's film too often sports a cavalier attitude, skating above the surface with an emotional and intellectual remove that encourages us to mock Loïc as often as we pity him. But thankfully, the initial explicit sexual provocation eventually subsides. And by the end of the film, Baier has gained a little substance along with Loïc. His film is all the better for it.