The School of Flesh (1998)

“Love hasn’t made you human.”

Isabelle Huppert seems to specialize in difficult roles, and The School of Flesh is yet another example of her superb and matchless talent. She seems to select and portray characters who are self-possessed and confident, but who are willing to surrender a portion of that worldly layer of independence to reveal the fragility and hunger lurking just beneath the icy surface.

In The School of Flesh Dominique (Isabelle Huppert) is a successful, single independent Parisian clothing designer. One night she drifts into a gay bar and makes eye contact with a young male prostitute/thug named Quentin (Vincent Martinez) who has a sultry pouty look. Chris–a transvestite who hangs out at the bar, notices the chemistry between this unlikely pair. Chris–who may or may not be Quentin’s pimp–encourages Dominique’s pursuit of Quentin and advises that it can be fun to pay for male company for a change.

In this relationship, Dominique has the money, power, and social connections–while Quentin has youth and amorality on his side. Dominique imagines that her money will simply remove any necessity Quentin may have to earn his own. A power struggle ensues and quickly becomes a game of destructive one-upmanship.

The School of Flesh is about the power centre that exists in every relationship, and in this film, the relationships show the nakedness of that power–the role of the pimp and the prostitute, the man who marries for money and the desire to have a normal life, and the male prostitute who accepts a keeper–all these relationships illustrate the inevitability and futility of attempting to control the love object. The acting is superb–special attention to Vincent Lindon as Chris–he’s at once sympathetic and sinister. Directed by Benoit Jacquot, The School of Flesh is in French with English subtitles.

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Filed under France, Isabelle Huppert

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