And why shouldn’t Denis Côté – “a straight, white, privileged man and all,” as he himself put it – make a film about female sexuality?
“There aren’t many films in Quebec cinema that tackle sexuality head-on in a very, very uninhibited way,” he said in an interview with Agence QMI, recalling a discussion between friends from “a few years ago.”
“We wondered why. We’ve come down to five films since The Decline of the American Empire. [À ce moment-là, le scénario] was a tiny spark, it wasn’t a fight I wanted to fight, I didn’t want to right a wrong in Quebec cinema. Then I came across Little History of Nymphomania, which dates back to 2002 and was written by a historian from New York. Why was a word invented just to talk about women’s desire? Why, down through the centuries, every time we have had to deal with women’s desires, have we felt the need to take care of it, to heal it?
“Then it became a challenge.” Because “A Summer Like This” addresses the sexuality of female characters with the deliberately “easy, even boring” title. Assuming fiction, the scenario follows three women, Léonie (Larissa Corriveau), Eugénie (Laure Giappiconi) and Geisha (Aude Mathieu), during a 26-day retreat where they, with the help of therapist Octavia (Anne Ratte-Polle) and Samir (Samir Guesmi), her sexual orbits. “Is that brave? is that crazy I don’t know, but I thought I could do something interesting,” he said.
The three actresses read different versions of the script and express their reservations about certain scenes. Denis Côté asked his usual editor to give way to a colleague, two sexologists made their comments. “But it’s still a Denis Côté film, it’s not a film that comes with ready-made solutions, it’s still a film that’s just questions with no answers, like in my other films. It advances in the dark, he stressed. It’s not a film that does its homework, acts like an expert, acts like a therapist and ends with a message. And I think if I had done that, I would be a man finding solutions to female sexuality.
“We cultivate the shady areas. What appeared to be therapy is completely ridiculous, this therapy serves absolutely no purpose other than to listen to women and give them a voice. And when the pseudotherapy is over, we didn’t heal the people, we listened to them, we supported them. We didn’t apply a therapeutic framework like science does and like men have always done to women.
The filmmaker of “Curling” or “Bestiary” is not a voyeur. There can be no question of an “old pig look” among the actresses, as he emphasized. Denis Côté has therefore given himself a list of prohibitions that must be observed.
It is not true that one wanted to make a film in the seduction. It’s not true that it was a film that wanted to eroticize things. It didn’t need postcards. It was forbidden to have a plan of the beautiful chalet or the beautiful country house. We are in the eyes, in the faces, as close to the skin as possible. At worst we suffocate, but at least we don’t eroticize things. It keeps the film from becoming voyeuristic. And I didn’t want explicit scenes because I felt like we’d seen this before.”
“Approaching [le sujet de la sexualité féminine], I think you need to get rid of any anticipation for your project. I’m male, I’m straight, this is my 14th film and it’s the first time I’ve seen so many naked girls on one set. I know this in advance and there is work to be done. I thought about all the old filmmakers that were in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and even today … we see that it still exists, this cinema of the old pigs,” he elaborated.
“But why? I told myself that they are from another time, that they have a certain power, but I had the same one on my set. And when you decide to use your power on your set, you don’t realize that “You live your sexuality vicariously. And if we scratch a little, we might discover that those old guys at home have nothing, that it took you three weeks to find a sex magazine under a mattress in 1983 when you were undressing actresses. Me , when i make my film in 2022 if i want sex i know where to find it i know i am three clicks away from porn after my work day i dont need my set and work to get something satisfying .”
“When I’m making my films, I make sure to be friends with my actors. We talk to each other a lot beforehand, I don’t hide any pages from my script. A lot is shared. We had no complaints on set. There were some difficult scenes to act, but it was shot in a fraternity… When I hear the horror stories on other sets and they have to call intimacy coordinators, I feel like I’m on another planet.”
It is this respectful attitude that allowed Larissa Corriveau to film a long sequence of “Shibari”, Japanese bondage, in complete confidentiality. “I turned to the only serious bondage school in Montreal. Larissa agreed and what we see on screen was her eighth session in six months. There was only sound and camera on set and I was hidden behind a screen,” said the filmmaker.
“What I like about the scene is that it’s as intense as it is gentle,” said Denis Côté, who wanted the viewer to perceive this moment “like a performance.” The entire film is experienced by the viewer as a mirror of his own sexuality.
“A Summer Like That” opened on August 19th.