Cannes competition entry Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo, the follow-up to Abdellatif Kechiche’s Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno from 2017, starts with a quotation from the Quran: “They have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear.” The passage in question talks about the heedless who deserve to go to hell. To be blunt, sitting through the latest work from the filmmaker behind two bona fide masterpieces of contemporary French cinema — Games of Love and Chance (2003) and Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) — was its own kind of hell. If only one could unsee and unhear it.
Not that it is likely that many regular cinemagoers will ever see Intermezzo. Its predecessor wasn’t widely distributed and didn’t do well where it did get a release. So the odds of this finding many takers in the theatrical arena are slim even without considering its merits — or rather its conspicuous lack thereof. To further add to its already nonexistent commercial appeal, the 200-minute-plus Intermezzo makes zero accommodations for viewers who might be unfamiliar with part one (which was already skimpy on backstory or plot for the characters to begin with). And what will also be complicated in the #MeToo era is that the feature basically consists of three-hours-plus of jiggling female butts, with only a 15-minute break for a scene of explicit cunnilingus that almost feels like a relief. (Look! It turns out women have other body parts that we can also drool over in close-up!) Oral-sex intermezzo aside, this is basically Twerking Female Fannies: The Movie.
Amin (Shain Boumedine), an aspiring screenwriter who is either asexual or shy beyond belief, is still in 1994 Sete, France, on the Mediterranean. The handsome man, of Tunisian origins, lives in Paris but has come down to his hometown for the summer. He’s actually much talked-about but not yet seen in the early going, on the beach, where the clan from Canto Uno all still hang out and where the cameras still linger lecherously over the scantily clad women and, especially, their derrieres. Celine (Lou Luttiau) is still in love from afar with Amin. But when resident studs Tony (Salim Kechiouche) and Aimé (Romeo De Lacour) drag another cute girl, Marie (Marie Bernard), to their clique’s spot on the beach, just like they have done with countless others all summer, Celine concedes Marie can have Amin first and she can wait a few months or years without any problem.
The laissez-faire attitude to love, sex and relationships should be familiar for viewers of Canto Uno and doesn’t seem to disturb this latest recruit into the motley group of hedonistic friends in the slightest. In terms of the lascivious and unapologetic male gaze on display, it’s already too much. But at least the careless and summery vibe of part one is also still very much alive here, though the sun then literally disappears.
After roughly 35 minutes, the film moves into the nightclub familiar from the protracted last act of Canto Uno. But for those who thought that that earlier scene, which ran over 30 minutes, was way too long, Kechiche has a middle-finger of a surprise in store. This time around, he won’t leave the same club for almost three continuous hours, even though he provides just as little plot or character insight as in that half-hour in part one, which is to say a quantity that’s statistically close to zero. It is not just a tough sit; it is nearly impossible to get through and makes no sense as a Cannes contender.
As in the first film, Tony and Ophelie are potentially the most intriguing characters and there’s an added twist to the rapport of the secret lovers, who are now just a few weeks away from her wedding to an unseen military fiancé. But Kechiche, again credited as a screenwriter alongside his wife, Ghalya Lacroix, doesn’t really do much with this new twist except use it to turn Tony into a frustrated man and Ophelie into a loose woman with a libido but no conscience. The most problematic in this regard is her clear refusal to get it on with Aimé, even explaining the apparently unknown concept of consent to him, only to still have sex with him not much later. Could she have changed her mind? Of course. Is this an empowering portrayal of female sexuality? Not in the slightest; it makes it look like women who say “no” need just a little bit more work. It is painfully retrograde and painful to watch.
Much more generally speaking, the problem is that a nightclub might be the perfect place if you’re looking for thousands of shots of gyrating behinds, the licking of pole-dancing poles and more anachronistic twerking than you can shake a barely covered ass at — and God knows this movie has more of each of these than you’re likely to ever want to see. But a club is also an impossible place to advance plot or provide character beats for three-plus hours, since all that people can do there is dance, flirt, canoodle, have sex in the toilets or drunkenly scream utterly banal phrases over loud music in lieu of having an actual conversation.
In all this, Amin remains a tedious bystander as in Canto Uno, refusing to venture onto the dance floor and only kissing Marie after Aimé has practically forced Amin’s tongue into her mouth. There is an explanation of sorts for his behavior but that clarification, too, is given scant development. Instead, an epilogue suggests all will be made clear in Canto Due, should it ever be released. Another note about that epilogue: There’s a slight risk of seeing male genitalia in one shot but the camerawork and editing have been manipulated in such a way that that never happens. It feels like a ridiculously hypocritical move from a director so clearly getting off on filming naked female bodies and (in this case heterosexual) sex, which requires at least certain parts of the male anatomy to roam free, if my understanding of such things is correct.
Right, so let’s talk about that cunnilingus scene, which occurs between Ophelie and Aimé. It’s 14 minutes long, so it is longer than what is — very unjustly — the most famous sequence from Blue Is the Warmest Color. But whereas that scene further built on the rapport and deepened the sense of shared intimacy between two persuasively drawn women, what happens here is nothing more than gratuitous porn. We know next to nothing about Aimé before or after the scene other than the fact that he thinks he is a player, while Ophelie’s sexual desires are mainly seen through the eyes of the men, who seem to judge her for behavior they regularly condone (from men) or themselves practice and get away with. The entire sequence adds absolutely nothing.
While Canto Uno featured some entrancing sequences in terms of the images, shot by the talented Italian cinematographer Marco Graziaplena, camera duties here were split between Graziaplena and his first assistant, Jeremie Attard. The print reviewed seemed composed of footage of varying quality and not color graded yet (a proper sound mix was also lacking, as were any type of credits), but that is the least of its problems. Countless shots are mind-numbingly repetitive, with the light sometimes flattening the images, losing detail in darker areas and with the framing and mise-en-scene not providing much of visual interest. Amin’s head is cut off in a lot of the widescreen footage for no discernible reason other than perhaps keeping the camera focused on the girls he is talking to and who are shorter than him. Since he’s already pretty much a cipher, this odd choice makes his character even less involving since we can’t see his facial expressions.
The current edit, credited to Luc Seuge, who doesn’t seem to have worked on the first film, feels shapeless and monotonous, with what little narrative there is perhaps enough for a 20-minute intermezzo but certainly not this terminally indulgent macho doodle posing as a movie.
Production companies: Quat’Sous Films
Cast: Shain Boumedine, Ophelie Bau, Marie Bernard, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi, Kamel Saadi, Meleinda Elasfour
Director-screenwriter: Abdellatif Kechiche
Directors of photography: Marco Graziaplena, Jeremie Attard
Editor: Luc Seuge
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)