Social Hygiene


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Social Hygiene
"Côté has often played with artifice, particularly in his documentaries, and here he pushes things to experimental extremes."

There’s a whiff of Samuel Beckett about Denis Côté’s latest film, which is a rake’s progress of sorts and which, despite its title and its socially distant staging being perfect for these Covid times, was written back in 2015.

The film plays out in a number of deliberately stagey episodic encounters that a young man, Antonin (Maxim Gaudette) has with a series of women. Firstly, there’s his sister Solveig (Larissa Corriveau), who disapproves of his thievery. Then there’s his wife Eglantine (Evelyne Rompre), who finds his lack of commitment irritating, even as she has a dalliance with another man, Clovis. Antonin also has a lover, Cassiopee (Eve Duranceau), who is looking for more than he wants to offer. He’s not having much luck out of the bedroom either, being confronted by Aurore (Eleonore Loiselle), a woman whose car he has broken into and by Rose (Kathleen Fortin) – decked out in the colour that reflects her name – a tax inspector who wants her overdue cash.

Côté has often played with artifice, particularly in his documentaries, and here he pushes things to experimental extremes. Each scene plays out in a rural spot, one with a cacophony of crows in the background, another with what sounds more like a jungle of a noise, a third with the sound of machinery and reversing vehicles. The time period is also deliberately fluid. Rose could have walked out of a civil service office yesterday, young Aurore listens to Lebanon Hanover (a group that formed in 2010 but who have a goth groove that sounds fresh out of the Eighties), while other characters’ outfits look plucked from the nearest costume drama. Antonin, meanwhile, occasionally swaps his tailcoat for a leather jacket, as befits the sort of Everyman that he is, and the talk of Facebook and Volkswagens adds to the sense of the absurd.

“We need some structure, Antonin,” one woman tells him, and in a sense, this film is all structure, the content a mere Will-o'-the-wisp of amusement about the vagaries of masculinity, which may or may not be considered toxic. It has its drily comic moments and, if you like absurdity then the deliberate incongruity has a bracing humour to it but there’s a sense that Côté’s first priority is to amuse himself on this occasion while waiting for the pandemic to pass.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2021
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Hedonistic philosopher-cum-delinquent, Antonin gets stuck between five women.


BIFF 2021

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