The Sentiment of the Flesh

Bold, brash and daring, the French-language film
must be like if outré cinema’s reigning Davids — Cronenberg and Lynch, of course — joined forces to make a romance.

Does that thought repel you? Then don’t even press “PLAY.” Instead, leave it for the rest of us to enjoy, because I kind of loved it. Maybe I’m just entranced, in a puppy-love state.

Héléna (Annabelle Hettmann) is an artist of anatomic detail; Benoît (Thibault Vinçon) is a radiologist. They meet when she complains of back pain, and he X-rays her spine. Remembering a bag she left behind, she notices he also took one of her lungs. Fearing he’s hiding news of some terrible disease, she confronts him, and he makes up an excuse about the machine being new and not doing what he wanted. In reality, he just wants to look at her insides.

Before long, they’re a couple, having raw, passionate sex whenever and wherever they can, as if the act is a coupon with a fast-approaching expiration date. As their relationship progresses to a deep, true love, Benoît asks if they can take this a step further, and you know what that means: “Can I put you in the MRI machine for hours and inject your veins with contrasting dye, so I can gaze at your internal beauty?”

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what he proposes, and she relents. And when their union inevitably hits a bump, her solution is to acquire a home celoscope (Google it) so they may enjoy one another’s bodies even further. Sounds sick, but writer/director Roberto Garzelli treats this fetish as if were a normal, everyday thing, and you’re not going to see any images you’ll want to un-see, unless you count the final, haunting shot.

This intimate (in more ways than one) portrait of two people in love is something of a minor marvel. Both Hettmann and Vinçon feel real, Garzelli’s direction is solid, the story is compelling, and the concept overall is decidedly not the same ol’ same ol’. “The Sentiment of the Flesh” isn’t for the easily disturbed, but for  inquisitive, curious minds — you know, much like Benoît. —Rod Lott