Sunday 17 March 2024

BFI Flare 2024: Sex is Comedy

Edith Chapin's terrific documentary—which screens tomorrow as part of this year's BFI Flare—focuses on the highly specialised work of the intimacy coordinator (IC).  The film's subtitle The Revolution of Intimacy Coordinators (French: La révolution des coordinatrices d'intimité) serves to differentiate it from Catherine Breillat's 2002 feature Sex is Comedy, although the fact that the films carry the same main title—which in both instances is in English—is no coincidence: the ever-edgy Breillat's meta-movie, which drew on her experiences making Fat Girl, revolved around a filmmaker attempting to shoot an intimate scene involving two actors who dislike each other.  Immediately prior to Fat Girl, Breillat had directed Romance, whose release was littered with controversial incidents—not least the accusations of the film's star, Caroline Ducey, who claimed the writer-director had exploited her during the filming of explicit sex scenes.

Romance was made at the tail end of the last century, in a pre-#MeToo world where the role of IC didn't exist; post-Weinstein, however, the need to employ a specialist to oversee such scenes has become much more urgent.  Sex is Comedy: The Revolution of Intimacy Coordinators features Brussels-based IC Paloma García Martens, who worked primarily as a costume designer on films as diverse as Thomas Vinterberg's Kursk, Claude François biopic Cloclo and the Cannes-winning Blue is the Warmest Colour before branching out into her current profession.  Chapin's film documents Martens' work on another Flare 2024 selection, Split—a series that debuted on France Télévisions' all-digital channel Slash—but also takes in a useful conversation with French actress-director Ovidie and a trip to London, where Martens meets with the intimacy coordinator of Netflix's hit show Sex Education

While fans of Split will no doubt find Sex is Comedy: The Revolution of Intimacy Coordinators to be an illuminating behind-the-scenes look at the TV show, it should be said that the film works extremely well as a standalone documentary.  As the person at the front and centre of the film, Martens is an erudite and likeable presence—as is Sex Education's IC, David Thackeray—and this nominal subject is good value as she outlines the day-to-day activities of an IC on set.  The longer we spend with Martens, the clearer it becomes that very few people are cut out for a successful tilt at this profession; you suspect that Martens' prior film industry experience stood her in good stead for this exacting role (and it's possible that the much-publicised fallout from Blue is the Warmest Colour—a film which, like Romance, could have sorely used an IC—informed her present career choice).    

Running at just under one hour, Edith Chapin's taut, deftly edited film is never anything less than fascinating, and it's particularly engrossing when Martens details how she works with Split's actors as one particular scene is filmed, on a closed set, before some squelching Foley sounds are added in postproduction; this last stage brings some levity to proceedings, and it should be said that, despite the serious nature of the job undertaken by Martens, humour plays an important—possibly essential—part in putting all concerned at ease.  On a less positive note, we get to witness the great stress involved when the same scene subsequently runs into nightmarish censorship issues.  Yet Sex is Comedy: The Revolution of Intimacy Coordinators is an overwhelmingly uplifting experience, and it provides real insight into both the rise and methods of the IC.

Darren Arnold

Images: France Télévisions / Cinétévé