Inside Cannes' Raunchy Muslim Teen Blowjob Comedy

Inside Cannes' Raunchy Muslim Teen Blowjob Comedy

The premise of Antoine Desrosières’ À Genoux Les Gars (English title: Sex Tape) sounds like a mashup of every risqué Hollywood teen comedy ever made: Boorish high-school boys demand oral sex from their girlfriends. After their demands are grudgingly met, a scheme involving a sex tape (in truth, a cellphone video; physical tapes are now as extinct as dodo birds) ups the ante and inspires them to blackmail the primary ingénue into performing nonstop fellatio. The boys’ virulent sexism is foiled when the girls get their comeuppance and find a clever ruse for blackmailing the blackmailers.

The premise of Antoine Desrosières' À Genoux Les Gars (English title: Sex Tape) sounds like a mashup of every risqué Hollywood teen comedy ever made: Boorish high-school boys demand oral sex from their girlfriends. After their demands are grudgingly met, a scheme involving a sex tape (in truth, a cellphone video; physical tapes are now as extinct as dodo birds) ups the ante and inspires them to blackmail the primary ingénue into performing nonstop fellatio. The boys' virulent sexism is foiled when the girls get their comeuppance and find a clever ruse for blackmailing the blackmailers.

Yet, far from being a retread of Porky's or Blockers, Desrosières' movie, which premiered on Thursday at Cannes' “Un Certain Regard” sidebar, is a curious meld of art-house prurience, pseudo-documentary (an opening caption informs us that the screenplay is based on “true accounts”), and an aesthetic that seems more indebted to mumblecore than glossy Hollywood farce. The protagonists, moreover, are Muslim sisters—even though, despite occasional references to the upcoming Ramadan holiday, the focus is much more on gender warfare than religion or ethnicity. To a certain limited extent, this is a refreshing artistic choice. Even well-intentioned French films about Muslim youth often make their protagonists into symptoms of a “social problem.” In the wacky teen universe of Sex Tape, they're merely incorrigibly raunchy kids.

The film's French title, which can be roughly translated as On Your Knees, Guys, provides an infinitely more accurate flavor (to put it delicately) of the proceedings than the generic English reference to a sex video. Rarely has a film outside of the realm of hardcore pornography devoted more screen time to parsing the importance, or lack thereof, of fellatio.

Yasmina (Souad Arsane) and Rim (Inas Chanti) are unusually close siblings. The more sexually sophisticated Rim is smitten with the handsome, but immature, Majid (Mehdi Dahmane). When Rim leaves town for a field trip to Auschwitz, Yasmina becomes increasingly drawn into the orbit of Majid and his pal Salim (Sidi Mejai). While Salim becomes Yasmina's nominal boyfriend, the young men convince her to provide sexual services in kind to Majid during her sister's absence. Events spiral out of control and Yasmina's mortified realization that she has betrayed her sister is superseded by the knowledge that the dreaded video evidence might make her a pariah on social media.

These sexcapades, which are depicted in a consistently lighthearted fashion, are part of a loosely “feminist-lite” agenda. Without using a sledgehammer to drive home his point, Desrosières is arguing that the vaunted “blow job,” not to mince words, is often more pleasurable for male participants than for women who find the entire enterprise distasteful. As the director claims in the press kit, “Yasmina finds herself alone against everyone… it's the story of a young teenager fighting in the kingdom of male frustrations and violence against women.”

From another perspective, however, Desrosières' paean to feminist rectitude is rather glib. It's true that, unlike some of its essentially puritanical Hollywood equivalents, Sex Tape is anti-bad sex without being hostile to teenage sex itself. Fortunately, for Yasmina, she ultimately finds orgasmic satisfaction with a hunky drug dealer and is no longer relegated to performing mechanical sex acts.

But there's something maddeningly schematic about how the heroine's dilemmas are resolved by the film's conclusion. Her disgruntled reaction to her boyfriend's needs (the prospect of a slab of flesh in her mouth strikes her as “gross”) comes off as much more convincing than the upbeat closing moments. It's also difficult to discern who the intended audience might be for these sexual shenanigans—other sexually frustrated teens, adults seeking titillation, or ethnographers-in-training charting the mating habits of French adolescents.

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