Among its many gifts to pop culture, Seinfeld offered the fake film Rochelle, Rochelle, “a young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk,” precisely the sort of softcore French cheesecake that many people imagine populate American arthouses. Sexual Chronicles Of A French Family journeys neither to Milan nor Minsk, but in all other respects, it’s the French art film of popular imagination, a smutty display of wall-to-wall couplings (and triplings) with a patina of class as thin as a see-through negligee. It’s a celebration of libertine sexuality—nothing more, nothing less—and almost remarkably untroubled by any of the dramatic issues it raises. Much of its 79 minutes is spent marveling over how skillfully the actors simulate the real thing.
Sexual Chronicles Of A French Family opens with sex-deprived 18-year-old narrator Matthias Melloul getting caught masturbating under the table in science class—an act he films for his friends’ edification. When his mother Valérie Maës hears the shocking news, she makes a surprising decision: Rather than castigate her son for his actions, she rejects the headmaster’s shaming and opts for more transparency in family discussions of sexuality. This kicks off a veritable yearlong fuckfest across three generations, from grandpa’s relationship with a prostitute to her other son’s flourishing bisexuality to Melloul’s own tentative first romance with the slightly more experienced Adeline Rebeillard.
After the mother’s discussion with the headmaster, directors Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr drop virtually all pretense to drama and busy themselves with staging a varying roundelay of sex scenes—between strangers, a married couple, two men and a woman, a virgin and his new girlfriend. The whole thing feels like date night in the late-’60s to mid-’70s, when urban couples would slip away to some racy European import, and it hardly mattered that the movie they were giving half-attention was artless tedium. And given that Sexual Chronicles Of A French Family is playing at midnight screenings and OnDemand, perhaps those days are back again. Suggested tagline: “The family that lays together, stays together.”