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Fox Lorber presents

My Sex Life (Or How I Got Into An Argument) (1996)

"I'm full of meanness, bitterness and pettiness. I can't budge for fear of breaking you... I don't love you."- Paul Dedalus (Matheiu Amaliric)

Stars: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Emmanuel Salinger, Marianne Denicourt
Other Stars: Thibault de Montalembert, Chiara Mastroianni, Denis Podalydès, Jeanne Balibar, Fabrice Desplechin, Hélène Lapiower, Michel Vuillermoz
Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Nudity, language)
Run Time: 02h:52m:36s
Release Date: 2000-07-04
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CD-B D-


DVD Review

Heralded by some as one of the most important films in New French Cinema, Arnaud Desplechin's (who also brought us La Sentinelle) My Sex Life (Or How I Got Into An Argument) (aka Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle)) explores the social workings of a group of 30-year-olds. While the US title may seem titilating, the original translation is far more accurate. The three quotes on the cover left me wondering whether I had the right film.

The central character, Paul Dedalus (Matheiu Amaliric) is going nowhere in his life. He lives with his cousin Bob (Thibault de Montalembert) and has a "temporary" job as an assistant professor. He has been working on his doctorate for the past three years, but can't decide whether he wants to be a professor or a writer. His indecision also places him at odds in his relationship with Esther (Emmanuelle Devos), his girlfriend of ten years. He is feeling stiffled and trapped, which he uses as an excuse to pursue affairs with several other women, including Sylvia (Marianne Denicourt), the girlfriend of his best friend, Nathan (Emmanuel Salinger), and Valerie (Jeanne Balibar), a translation student he picks up at a party and eventually begins tutoring. Amidst his roundabout sexual relationships, he spends time talking at length with his buddies about their sexual encounters, the pitfalls of their relationships, and their various schemes about breaking up with their girlfriends and moving on to uncharted territory. In the middle of this crisis of direction, an old friend, Fredric Rabier (Michel Vuillermoz), whom Paul had a falling out with several years earlier, reappears at the campus accompanied by his pet monkey. The awkwardness and unpleasantness of their reunion is mirrored in the circumstances that reunite them.

To some, this film could be a wonderous look at the 30-something crowd, exploring their futures and realistically portraying their directionless lifestyles, coupled with meaningless romantic encounters that are from their onset doomed to failure. To others, such as myself, this is a longwinded film (clocking in at a torturous 173 minutes!) that seems to drag on forever, with little point other than an exposé of a bunch of middle-aged men with no real purpose in their lives. I felt no affinity for any of the characters. While well acted, Paul is just a pathetic loser who finds pleasure in torturing himself and those around him with his indecision, and he has no honesty with anyone. The women in the film are either extremely clingy or overly dominant, which didn't lend credibility to their characters. While there are moments that are humorous, they are separated by extended diatribes by the ensemble cast.

I would temper my assessment with the fact that experiencing this film on this DVD version doesn't help its case, as the presentation is one of the worst I have ever seen. Half the time I couldn't tell who was onscreen due to the transfer being so dark, which doesn't help when the cinematography is going for the "face in shadow" look most of the time, which can be very effective with proper presentation, but a mess when shown like this. I just wanted it to end.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: My Sex Life is presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio (though the box is confusingly listed as 1.33:1 Letterbox). Unfortunately, this has to be one of the worst transfers I have ever seen. The image is dark and murky, the contrast is blown out in the light areas, and dingy in the dark areas, resulting in absolutely no shadow detail whatsoever, and due to the fact that much of the film is in shadow, you end up watching slivers of light and can't tell who you are looking at. Colors are drab and the video tends towards orange, green and yellow most of the time. Burned in subtitles are blurry, and often disappear in the blown out white areas of the picture. This is really painful to watch. If you've ever seen a home VHS recording shot in really low light without compensation for interior lighting you'll have a good idea of what this looks like. Additionally, the image is marred by several anomalies that look like tape dropouts, which occur even more often during the second hour of the film. I don't know what they used as a source for this (a release print, but mastered to what?), but this was really disappointing.

Image Transfer Grade: D-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is pretty mediocre, though not really flawed per se. This is a dialogue film, and it is all recorded on location and sounds that way. The original French soundtrack is the only option.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Standard Fox Lorber filmographies, film and DVD production credits, weblink. The theatrical trailer listed on the box is not on the disc. The 8 chapter stops are 20 minutes or more apart. (Thank goodness there wasn't a commentary!)

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

I really have to wonder whether a better presentation would have changed my opinion of this film. As it is here, it was extremely difficult to watch, and seemed to drag on forever (correction, it DID drag on forever!). I usually have a pretty high threshold for print flaws, but this release is just plain poor, especially considering the film is only four years old, there is no excuse for how this looks. While the acting wasn't bad, and there were some interesting parts, the presentation just ruins any redeeming qualities the film may have, so until a better version becomes available, my recommendation is to avoid this at all costs.

Jeff Ulmer 2000-10-09