It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Jean-Francois Davy's "Exhibition" is a documentary about a 30ish young French woman (Claudine Beccarie) who stars in hard-core porno films (in Holland, not in France, which just recently lifted the censorship of the Pompidou regime.) It's more serious than most porno documentaries - there's evidence that Davy really is interested in what makes Claudine, ah, tick - but the basic purpose is to sell the movie in terms of its sex, and that's what the audiences are there for.
We learn of Claudine's painful youth (assaulted by a relative, raped, reform school, prostitution - then working her way up from girlie magazines to the movies) and of her current status as a star of European porno films. We meet her mother, who seems open and honest but grows silent when Claudine reminds her that she never once visited her in reform school. We meet her lover, much younger. We meet her co-stars. In one of the film's most interesting sequences, we meet her fans; she interviews them outside the theater where her latest film is playing, and they hardly recognize her. ("Who looks at faces?") All of this is handled in a competent way; "Exhibition" is a craftsmanlike, if unremarkable, documentary. But - let's face it - this became the first hard-core film ever accepted by the New York Film Festival not because it was a great documentary but because it was about pornography. The same insights and skills brought to any other element of French culture wouldn't have gotten this movie a single commercial booking.
What it does provide us with, however, is what's always most interesting about a porno film: our thoughts and speculations about those real people up there on the screen. "Exhibition" claims to give us the "real" Claudine, but after an hour or so we begin to suspect it doesn't. There are half-finished remarks about sex, half suggested hang-ups she almost wants to talk about but doesn't, that leave us with the curious notion that Claudine Beccarie, hard-core superstar, knows less about sex than most people. That her athletic gropings and grapplings on the screen have been dutifully learned and repeated, while the scar tissue of her adolescence deprives her of truly adult experiences.
There is, for example, the fact that she shows infinitely more affection and tenderness in the film for her female co-stars than for any of the men, including her lover. This doesn't indicate, I believe, that she's a lesbian, although she does go through the ritual incantation about the joys of bisexuality, etc., ad nauseum. She seems, instead, almost to be clinging to her woman friends for fellow feeling, for support and reassurance.