Last Thursday evening, after a rigorous session at the gym, I collapsed into bed, red wine and chicken lo mein in hand, and watched The Libertine, a classic French sex comedy filmed in 1969 and starring Catherine Spaak. As a freshly widowed young woman, Mimi, sorts through the various professional and personal affairs of her deceased husband, she discovers his secret seduction and copulation den, an almost aeronautically sleek lair resplendent with mirrors and other sheen surfaces, a smattering of costumes and phallic artwork. It is here, hidden from his wife, he was able to fulfill his seemingly insatiable sadomasochistic fantasies. Mimi, who had been dulled and mildly annoyed with the inconvenience of the sudden death of her husband, immediately becomes enraged and disheartened: her sole lover chose to indulge in this lifestyle without her. Deciding that female sexuality and sexual experiences must exist in a binary system, where one can be a wife or a mistress, a slightly nuanced conception of the madonna-whore complex, Mimi exerts her energies as a young widow into researching, both theoretically and practically, various sexual perversions, or, behaviors traditionally purported to be perverse by society.
Although nudity abounded in this film, as did explorations into sexual fantasy and fetish, it was refreshingly modest and not at all obscene; Mimi is earnest in her eagerness to discover and to understand her own desires, both physical and emotional, which clearly had not been sufficiently satisfied by her late husband. Without having any veritable authority on the matter, I believe this comedy and others in its genre served as an inspiration for Woody Allen, particularly some of his work addressing sexual dynamics between men and women. I must admit, I found this film to be more charming, more true than any of his films on the matter to which I have been exposed.
Mimi, naturally, reaches a rather expected nadir of regret and disappointment; while she is not shamed or remorseful of any of her decisions or her mates, she is convinced that now, living as a mistress, she is not able to return to the realm of wife. Essentially, she feels alone, unsure of how to go about seeking a connection that is able to touch mind, body, and soul. Various events unfold, not surprisingly, to prove the contrary, as Mimi falls in love and reveals her own specific fetish. Although the ending was in no way remarkably profound, I found it nonetheless poignant, especially given the era, promoting a healthy and progressive view: the fluidity of feminine sexuality and the pure, simple, but often neglected fact that sex should be fun and make both partners happy, secure.
Unfortunately, not only was the quality of the actual film a bit lower than I would have liked, the French was dubbed over with English, an antiquated practice which often leads to dubious translation. Despite this, and beyond the endearing characters and important messaging that remains very relevant today, I enjoyed the film for the absolutely stunning display of late 1960s French Mod fashion. Alas, I was unable to find any images of the beautiful costumes, despite my fastidious scouring, which is a shame. Catherine Spaak had a stunning body and luscious hair, which accompanied the well tailored pieces beautifully. If a bitter widow, rival friendships, violence and role enactment as foreplay, and sexual deviations are not enough to elicit sufficient interest to seek out this hilarious and fuzzy-feeling-inducing film, then impeccable and fascinating clothing may not provide reason either. In this case, there is the true cause for shame and remorse.
(image taken from Catherine Spaak MySpace Fan Club)