School of Flesh

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, languages: French Dolby Stereo [CC], subtitles: English, Spanish, French, single side-single layer, 28 chapters, theatrical trailer, rated R, 102 min., $27.95, street date 12/7/99.

Studio Line

Directed by Benoit Jaquot. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Vincent Martinez, Francois Berleand, Daniele Dubroux, Marthe Keller, Vincent Lindon.

International screen sensation Isabelle Huppert stars in The School Of Flesh, the erotically-charged, critically acclaimed tale of an intense love affair complicated by money, secrets and betrayals.

Dominique (Huppert) is an accomplished fashion executive bored with her mundane life, until she meets Quentin (mesmerizing newcomer Vincent Martinez), a much younger bisexual hustler/bartender. The pair enjoy a powerful chemistry despite their differences in age and background and enter into an arrangement where each gets what they desire most: Dominique, a bed partner, and Quentin, a home and financial security. But Quentin's mysterious air and vulnerable, yet violent nature force Dominique to look into his past. What Dominique learns could jeopardize everything she has come to believe. The School of Flesh is "an elegant account of mad love and cool vengeance!"

Picture/Sound/Extras (A-/C+/D-)

What a wacky world it is! Recently I received two French films on DVD from Columbia-Tristar: Ma Vie En Rose and The School Of Flesh. MVER looked abysmal; a story about a little boy who wants to be a girl? Please! It appeared precious and cloying and I expected to loathe it. TSOF, on the other hand, promised a story of "an intense love affair complicated by money, secrets and betrayals." Sounded pretty good to me, and since it was French, I anticipated acres of good skin.

In reality, my reactions to these films ended up almost exactly the opposite of my expectations. MVER actually was subtle and somewhat moving, while TSOF seems nothing more than a bore. It seems like the kind of film Americans expect from the French; obsessed with sex and pointless. The latter may be more excusable if the former offered more titillation, but as no thrills are to be found anywhere in this movie, that's not the case.

TSOF concerns itself with a May/December love affair between a successful older woman and a hunky young hustler. She seems to care for him mainly because he's hot, and he likes her because she's well-preserved and rich. That's a love for the ages, huh? Perhaps there are deeper reasons for their mutual semi-affection - they constantly play mind games on each other and cheat often - but I couldn't figure out any other facets to this tremendously shallow relationship.

I found TSOF to be an almost-total loss. It features dull people, who go about their superficial lives and depicts uninteresting situations. Ultimately, who gives a rat's ass? I have no objection to character-driven films, but at least give me some compelling characters; these folks completely lack substance and charm. Damn, there's not even any good nudity (though star Isabelle Huppert has a decent rear). Pass on this clunker.

The School Of Flesh appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Unusually for a CTS title, no fullscreen edition appears although plenty of room remained for it. Typically for CTS, however, the picture looks terrific.

Sharpness seems consistently crisp and the image always appears appropriately detailed; any softness I witnessed looked to be a stylistic decision, and was incredibly slight, anyway. Very occasional moire effects crop up, mainly when we see blinds, but these are quite negligible. The print used for the transfer looks clean and fresh; I noticed no grain, spots, scratches or other flaws.

Colors appear quite good, and always seem very accurate and nicely saturated. Even during the nightclub scenes, which feature some colored lighting, the hues remain stable and display no bleeding. Black levels seem strong and deep, and shadow detail appears appropriately dense without and overly opaque tendencies. In general, the picture looks excellent.

I found the film's Dolby Surround 2.0 mix to be more of a disappointment. The quality seems very good. Dialogue sounded distinct and natural; although I can't actually judge how intelligible it was, since I don't speak any French other than "Grand Royale with cheese," but I expect it should be easily understood based on what I heard. The film offers no score, so the only music we hear is incidental - such as in the nightclubs - but what we encounter sounded adequate, if somewhat lacking in low end; nightclub scenes usually really pour on the bass, and these seemed a bit quiet. Effects are mild but appear realistic. I detected no evidence of any distortion during the film.

My main objection to this soundtrack stems from its extreme lack of ambition. For the most part, this is a glorified mono mix and it does little to create a realistic atmosphere. To be sure, I don't expect Saving Private Ryan; TSOF is a character-driven picture that doesn't much use for bombast. Nonetheless, it should have offered a fuller and wider soundstage than it does. Even segments with numerous opportunities for an involving environment - mainly street scenes and nightclub bits - appear very limited in scope. Yes, the audio seems adequate to tell the story, especially since the plot is so slight, but I feel a modern film needs a fairly modern soundtrack, one that TSOF does not provide.

Note that TSOF only offers the original French soundtrack; no dubbed English version appears. While this may offend purists, I often prefer English dubs to watching a movie with subtitles; as I've noted in other reviews, the captions make me feel like I'm reading a movie instead of viewing it, and I appreciate at least having an option between the two. TSOF doesn't offer that choice; we get the French audio with English subtitles (actually, French and Spanish captions are also available). This omission is probably more the responsibility of the film's producers than the distributor, but I still missed the English option.

Even more disappointing is the paucity of supplemental features that appear on this DVD. TSOF offers a theatrical trailer, one that shows scenes from the film while we hear laudatory quotes from critics. That's it - we don't even get the usual booklet with production notes as TSOF features only a sheet with cover art on one side and chapter listings on the other. This DVD seems to be a cheap affair.

I suppose that's appropriate, since the film documents a cheap affair. The School Of Flesh isn't a terrible film, but it's a very dull one that at no point even remotely entertained me. The DVD offers a very strong picture, but while the audio sounds good, the rather monaural nature of the mix disappoints. Add to that an almost complete lack of supplements and you have a DVD to avoid.

Related Sites

Current as of 1/23/2000

James Berardinelli's ReelViews--"This is a film to be enjoyed on a psychological level for its keen understanding of the contradictory impulses that drive sexual and social intercourse."
Roger Ebert--"I cannot imagine a Hollywood movie like this. Audiences would be baffled." the DVD at special discount. the DVD at special discount.
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