'Sextape': Film Review | Cannes 2018

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A nugget of truth wrapped in a gross and vulgar package.

This French film premiering in Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar is about Gallic teens with only one thing on their minds.

Sextape (A genoux les gars) plays like a hard-R, single-minded sitcom, with about a half-hour’s worth of snortingly crude comedy stretched laboriously out to feature length. What makes this artless enterprise rather of-the-moment, and therefore able to be taken seriously by a festival like Cannes, is that its would-be female payback theme technically plays into the present political climate of women taking charge of the sexual equation, an issue heightened here because the teenage characters are all French Muslims. A certain constituency may defend it on political grounds, but on a moment-to-moment basis the film is madly over-the-top, almost unbearably so at times, and hardly surprising in its point of view.

What could be more familiar? Late-teen buds Majid (Mehdi Dahmane) and Salim (Sidi Mejai) want to get it on with their would-be girlfriends, sisters Rim (Inas Chanti) and Yasmina (Souad Arsane). Majid and Rim are by far the better-looking couple, although he’s extremely arrogant and argumentative and she’s coyly self-protective when it comes to sex. As for the other two, Salim is no catch physically or temperamentally, while Yasmina is on the plain side.

On a very unpleasant double date, Majid proves so obnoxious that they get kicked out of an outdoor dance party. As the evening continues, with the subject of conversation straying from sex for scarcely a moment, the foursome ends up at a mall, where, at length, the reluctant Yasmina is eventually talked into giving the fast-talking Salim the oral sex he so keenly desires. Per the title, the event gets recorded for posterity by Majid, clearly as potential blackmail in case Yasmina has any ideas.

Poor Yasmina feels like a victim and an idiot afterwards, while the others go about their business; since Yasmina has now crossed the line, Majid thinks he should get some too, while in the worst-taste joke in the film, Rim, returning from a week’s school field trip to Poland, airily complains that, “Auschwitz kind of got me down.”

Moving right along, director Antoine Desrosieres, whose two previous directorial credits came back in the 1990s, takes the tale from dumb to dumber in a film that is dominated by long disputes and shouting matches that never take long to reach the upper decibels of shrillness. The arguments extend to the sisters’ family, with the parents coming off as equally obnoxious as the kids.

With gloom and hopelessness enveloping her, Yasmina suddenly disappears, and suicide wouldn’t have been a surprise under the circumstances. But redemption and turning the tables on predators is the agenda now, and the teenager goes for it in a decidedly offbeat way that mixes a bit of very quick sexual healing (some of it surprisingly graphic) and some outrageously convenient shuffling of sexual partners.

It’s all quite stupid and overbearing, except for the real issues of male coercion that lie at the bottom of it all. The French title translates as “On Your Knees, Guys.”

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)

Production: Les Films de L’Autre Cougar

Cast: Souad Arsane, Inas Chanti, Sidi Megai, Mehdi Dahmane, Elis Gardiole, Loubna Abidar, Baya Kasmi, Younes Moktari

Director: Antoine Desrosieres

Screenwriters: Antoine Desrosieres, Anne-Sophie Nanki, Souad Arsane, Inas Chanti, Sidi Mejai, Mehdi Dahmane

Director of photography: George Lechaptois

Production designer: Laurent Le Corre

Editor: Nicolas Le Du

98 minutes