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Saturday, Sept. 30, 2000

'UNE LIAISON PORNOGRAPHIQUE'

Why it's better to grow old in Paris


My own personal solution to the aging problem is this: pull up the stakes and move to Paris. Now here's a city designed for people over 45 -- that accepts and even encourages the ego, the capriciousness and the often peculiar needs of older adults. How I know this is because of French movies, half of which are dedicated to living it up after middle age. Consider the fact that Jeanne Moreau, Sylvie Vartan and Jane Birkin are still around and working, playing nasty, naughty femme fatales spouting lines that would embarass a French truck driver. Plus, they never wear underwear.

Then compare this situation to the Japanese movie world, where mature women are expected to endorse moisturizers and care for the elderly. As for underwear, it's common knowledge that after 35, Japanese women grab onto some woollen contraptions and hang on till death. How depressing.

For more thoughts on the unfairness of it all, make tracks to the theater and a movie called "Une Liaison Pornographique (A Pornographic Liaison)." See, already the title reeks of smugness and superiority, enhancing the illusion that in Paris, liaisons are pornographic while in other places, they're part of an import/export office.

And when I tell you that the cast consists of fiftysomething Nathalie Baye, 45-year-old Sergi Lopez and a couple whose respective ages can't be a day under 80 -- you may be prompted into doing two things: Burn your Viagra and start learning French.

"Une Liaison" holds that maturity is a cause for celebration. That love, romance and drama loom on the horizon. That you will do things never done and have feelings never tasted, inside clawfooted bathtubs and old hotels and quaint little brasseries.

Directed by Frederic Fonteyne (who is only a whippersnapper of 32), "Une Liaison" nevertheless has the taste and texture of an aged and dusty Armagnac. The story is told documentary style, as two separate interviews of a man and a woman who had conducted a brief "pornographic affair" the year before.

The man (Lopez) claims he answered a personals ad in a sex magazine and decided to launch the relationship based on the letter and passport photo of a certain woman (Baye). She, on the other hand, claims they first chatted on the Net, before deciding to meet in a cafe. The man says they took to meeting once every two weeks; the woman insists it was once a week, always on Thursday.

The discrepancy is funny and revealing. But their stories match when it comes to telling of the actual rendezvous: The pair would wait for each other in a cafe, then walk over to a nearby hotel where the proprietor hands over the key in silence. It was always the same room, its ice-blue interiors clashing with the red hallways.

Both of them seek nothing more than sexual relations; they are there to engage in a fantasy that had eluded them until now. The woman had wished for someone "really hairy" and finally got him. The man wanted a mysterious liaison in which neither partner had any personal information about the other. No names, no addresses, professions or pasts. Only once, they have dinner together. Once they run into an accident involving an elderly couple. But the rest of the time, "it was just sex." When the just-sex changes to feelings of love, the two decide it's time to call it a day.

Viewers will be reminded of similar themes -- "The Bridges of Madison County," for example, or "Last Tango in Paris." But "Une Liaison" is defined by a wholesomeness and subtlety that was lacking in these two works, due solely to the charms of the main characters.

Baye sports what can only be described as a sweet girlishness, accented by a simple wardrobe, simple hair and no makeup. She strolls the streets with both hands tucked inside her coat pockets (like a child) and she doesn't even carry a handbag. Her lack of artifice is striking. Combine this with her perfectly straightforward remarks about sex, her insights about life and her unmistakable sensuality and what you get is an irresistable personals ad.

The man for his part reminds you of a very comfortable sofa, the type of guy women only learn to appreciate after their 30s. You'll love the part where he stows the sex magazine in a plastic bag, "in remembrance of precious moments, because this is where it all started." Is that cute or what?

No wonder Paris is where good Americans go to die. But why limit the field to Americans and more important, why wait until death? Ecoutez cherie, 55 will do quite nicely.

"Une Liaison Pornographique" is playing at Bunkamura's Le Cinema in Shibuya.


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