Sex-Power (Dir Henry Chapier, 1970)
Basic plot: Set in the late 1960s, Alain travels across America. Has he left his girlfriend Jane or is he planning on doing so? This is unclear but whilst on his travels he encounters many other women – some real, some mythical figures. Somehow his mind keeps coming back to Jane. Will they be together again?
Cast: Jane – Jane Birkin; Alain or l‘homme-coeur – Alain Noury; Salome – Bernadette Lafont; Juliette or the unattainable woman – Juliette Villard; Lorelei – Elga Andersen; The siren – Leila Shenna; The modern girl – Catherine Marshall; Jane’s daughter – Kate Barry; Yanco – Jean Yanko Varda; ? – Candy Capitol; ? – Vicky Tobogan
Filming locations:Berkeley, California; Big Sur, California; Paris, France; the Sahara Desert
Release date: 17 June 1970, Paris
Availability: Available on DVD but in French language with no English subtitles and only French subtitles on the English sequences – don’t be fooled by the specification on Amazon, it just doesn’t have full subtitles. It’s also fairly pricey at the moment (nearly £30 on Amazon UK, although you can still get it for about €15 if you can be bothered to order it from Amazon France) but it’s a double-bill along with Henry Chapier’s 1968 very interesting documentary about Californian left-wing militants and the Black Panther movement, Un été américain (American Summer) and there are some extras too: trailers; biographies; cast/crew interviews; filmographies; short film Jeunesse américaine. If you don’t want to invest in the DVD package you can watch Sex-Power or download it for just €3.99 at http://www.ina.fr/video/VDD08000001
Sex-Power is known chiefly for its soundtrack provided by Vangelis, but I wanted to do a little write-up on the film as it seems to have been somewhat ignored – if you do an internet search for Sex-Power you will find very little other than vague descriptions of it being “a mystical journey” or “a dream poem”. I don’t know if I’ll have much more to add to that, but I’m prepared to give it a go. Here goes!
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT* – and please note there are a couple of images of nudity!
I’m always banging on about this but it is very disappointing that so few French films are available with English subtitles and having noticed elsewhere on the internet that someone said about this film that you hardly need to know French to get the gist of what is happening, I felt otherwise and figured I should try my hardest to work out what exactly was being said. Maybe I was wrong to do that as, in my mind at least, the dialogue that I could work out seemed somehow to be significant – it’s possible that it wasn’t and maybe it’s just me reading importance into something where there is little or none – and that meant making far more effort to decipher it all than I really have the time for!
Anyway, as I made a lot of effort to decipher it all – believe me, it was hard work for someone who is not fluent in French to understand the rather lyrical language that was being used in the film – I thought I should share it on here and maybe if someone else has understood it better or can fill in the bits I couldn’t really get that would be great. Don’t be shy; get in touch with me if you have anything to say or to add to this.
The film starts with Alain (Alain Noury of Un beau monstre and Histoire d’O fame) walking naked through the desert. This kind of reminded me of the cover of Jean-Claude Vannier’s album L’Enfant Assassin des Mouches. But anyway, the dialogue he speaks, off-camera, is from Ecclesiastes 9:11 (“Je me suis tourné et j’ai vu sous le soleil…”):
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill…”
Alain returns to this quote later in the film so it would seem to be of some importance; as to the meaning, well it could mean a variety of things but possibly that we don’t always achieve things we expect to achieve. What is more interesting for me is that earlier in Ecclesiastes (9:9), it says: “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun— all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labour under the sun.” When you look at this in tandem with the film’s theme, it makes more sense, I think.
Back to the film, Alain is now dressed and wandering around an inlet. He poses with his arms outstretched like Christ against a telegraph pole. Again this may mean nothing but given the earlier Biblical quote, I wonder whether Alain sees himself as Christ in the desert, being tempted by the devil? In this case, the devil being represented by a variety of seductive women – Salome; Siren; the Unattainable Woman; Lorelei; etc. If this is so, will he manage to refuse the temptations?
The dialogue now moves from the Bible to Shakespeare’s Othello (“La vertu! Une baliverne…”): “Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners.” The quote Alain is using is from Iago who seems to be saying that he has little respect for the virtuous – maybe he is considering whether he should supply his garden “with one gender of herbs or distract it with many”. To be monogamous, or not to be monogamous – if you’ll excuse the bad pun.
I should just say that there is a lot of repetition in the film – the two quotes mentioned already are both repeated later in the film – but it is not just quotes that are repeated. Certain imagery and scenes are repeated several times. Sometimes the scenes are repeated almost word for word the same but it is not just footage being re-shown, it has actually been re-filmed (or re-enacted) slightly differently. The main scenes that are repeated and re-enacted are those with Jane. Whether or not Alain is remembering something that has happened, or trying to remember something that has happened (and recalling it slightly differently each time), or whether it has not yet happened and he is imagining how the scene will unfold when it actually takes place, I am not sure and it’s open for interpretation. Anyway, I am digressing again and you’ll have to forgive me as my thoughts about the film flit all over the place in the same way that the film itself does.
Alain thumbs a ride to the city and hangs out – there are Hare Krishnas, hippies, performers and bands; one man burns the American flag; a band plays Be True to Your School by The Beach Boys and Runaway by Del Shannon; someone dressed as a clown does some amateur dramatics. Alain just wanders through all of this.
For the first time we see Alain’s girlfriend Jane. Alain carries Jane through a white tunnel, with Jane in a classic Jane Birkin pose (head back, displaying her neck); look out for it, she does it often – in fact I’m pretty sure she did it in Melancoly Baby which I’ve already reviewed here.
There is no conversation between Alain and Jane and the significance of the white tunnel is not totally clear although this image is repeated throughout the film and the white room crops up frequently. In the next scene Alain appears to be asking Jean Yanko Varda (artist and uncle of the film director Agnès Varda) for advice about relationships and love. I must admit this is the sequence I struggled with the most – I could get the odd word here or there but after about half a dozen times of listening to the dialogue I kind of gave up. Yanko seemed to be saying something along the lines of: “Pour que l’amour arrive à la vision totale, il faut qu’il lié la periode… entre le désir et la satisfaction du désir il doit passer une époque…” Between desire and the satisfaction of desire an era must pass, I dunno, you must keep excusing my French skills.
In any case this particular phrase brings to mind Some Kinda Love by The Velvet Underground: “Some kinds of love Marguerita told Tom, Between thought and expression lies a lifetime, Situations arise because of the weather, And no kinds of love are better than others.”
I don’t know if that’s of any relevance either but we might as well throw that into the mix too since we’re getting all detailed on this. And maybe Lou Reed is right and no kinds of love are better than others, but Jane seems to be arguing the corner for self-love as she reads and quotes in English from Oscar Wilde’s Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young:
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” She continues with another Wilde quote, “The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.” Jane is joined by her daughter Kate (Kate Barry – daughter of the composer John Barry) as she sleeps. In the next scene Jane draws whilst Alain watches her. For the first time they play out this scene which sometimes leads up to their break-up but on this occasion comes to a stop before Alain tells Jane he is leaving her:
Break-Up Scene Take 1
Alain: You never looked more charming than you looked tonight
[Jane ignores him and carries on drawing]
Alain: You remind me of the day I saw you first.
[Jane ignores his words]
Jane: I want to hear some music
Alain: Yes, you are the same.
Jane: I’m so glad you’ve never done anything outside of yourself. Life’s been your art, you set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets
Jane is again quoting from Oscar Wilde, this time from The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In the next scene we see some fire imagery and a woman dancing (I think this might be Juliette, the unattainable woman). The first temptation maybe?
We’re back with Jane now – this time she is playing the keyboard as Alain plays with her hair and kisses her.
Just as quickly we are back with the unattainable woman and Alain who is now naked – against a fiery background Juliette dances and Alain touches her face.
Now the scene is the white room, full of white chairs – Jane is laughing. This cuts back to Alain crawling through the rocks towards the unattainable woman, then just as quickly it cuts back to the room full of white chairs. I’m still not sure what the white room and chairs and tunnel represent but the scenes with Jane always seem to take place in their bedroom (as with the Break-Up Scene) or in this white room. And even if the white room is empty, bar the white chairs, I suppose it represents his life with Jane.
Next up we have the first appearance of Salome (as played by Bernadette Lafont, who died a few weeks ago on 25 July 2013 – RIP beautiful Bernadette). How Alain manages to refuse her femme-fatale, I don’t know. Once again this is Oscar Wilde related, of course, as the quotes all come from Wilde’s French language play Salome, but at the same time it is also a Biblical story. And it also ties in with the recurring scenes and phrases used throughout Sex-Power – recurring motifs – including the comparison between women and the moon (which occurs again later in Sex-Power most notably in the scenes with the tarot card reader, who also looks to me to be played by Bernadette Lafont) and the implication that women take great pleasure in using their sex-power to destroy men.
Back to Salome and Alain – Salome starts this first scene with Alain by quoting:
“Je suis amoureuse de ton corps. Ton corps est blanc comme le lys d’un pré que le faucheur n’a jamais fauché. Ton corps est blanc comme les neiges de montagnes, comme les neiges qui descendent dans les vallées de Judée. Les roses du jardin de la reine d’Arabie ne sont pas aussi blanches que ton corps. Ni le sein de la lune quand elle couche sur le sein de la mer… ni les pieds de l’aurore qui trépignent sur les feuilles. Il n’y a rien au monde d’aussi blanc que ton corps. Laisse-moi toucher ton corps!”
In English: “I am in love with your body. Your body is as white as the lilies of a field never mown. Your body is as white as the snow on the mountains of Judea. The roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia are not as white as your body. Nor the moon when she lies on the sea… Nor the feet of the dawn when they touch the leaves. There is nothing in the world as white as your body. Let me touch your body!”
Alain, so far avoiding temptation, responds with: “Who is that woman who is looking at me? I don’t want her to look at me.” But he nonetheless turns to look at her.
Salome undeterred continues with: “Ton corps est hideux. Il est comme le corps d’un lépreux. … Il est horrible ton corps! C’est de tes cheveux que je suis amoureuse. Laisse-moi toucher tes cheveux.”
In English: “Your body is hideous, like the body of a leper. … It is horrible your body! It’s your hair that I love. Let me touch your hair.”
The scene then changes to the white room where Alain sits on one of the white chairs.
Jane is now rehearsing for a play – Shakespeare’s Hamlet (as an aside, I actually saw Jane Birkin performing as Gertrude in Hamlet at the Royal Theatre in Northampton in 2005) – and struggling to recall her lines. She is rehearsing Act 2, scene 1, where Ophelia addresses Polonius: “My lord, as I was sewing in my closet, Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced…”
She tries to get Alain to play Polonius for her and explains affrighted to him in French and why she is supposed to be frightened in this scene. She is struggling so much with her lines that she says, “I can’t do it, that’s all!” Alain slaps her on the back of the head and she laughs: “I’m laughing but it’s not really very funny!”
Now Alain is with another woman who looks to be an uncredited Raquel Welch – but you decide:
They are talking but you can’t hear the dialogue. It’s a throwaway scene as it means nothing but she is a very beautiful woman, whoever she is, so we can overlook the fact that it’s totally unnecessary.
Then we are back with Jane and this is the first appearance of what I refer to as the You Made Me Realise What Love Really Was Scene:
“I really was awful last night. I’m not going to do it anymore; I’m finished. Before, acting seemed the only real thing; you could be one person one day, and somebody else the other. Suddenly you came along and it was all different. I realised that they were just playing; that the words were unreal; the people were unreal; you made me realise what love really was.”
This seems to be at odds with her earlier Wilde quote, “The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible,” but maybe she had just discovered what the second duty was after all.
Alain has no such problems recalling his lines as he quotes Gérard de Nerval’s El Desdichado (The Disinherited): “Je suis le Ténébreux, – le Veuf, – l’Inconsolé, Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la Tour abolie: Ma seule Étoile est morte, – et mon luth constellé Porte le Soleil noir de la Mélancolie.”
In English: I am the Dark One, – the Widower, – the Unconsoled / The Aquitaine Prince whose Tower is destroyed: / My only star is dead,- and my constellated lute / Bears the black Sun of Melancholia.
We’re back to the Break-Up Scene again, but this time it continues to its end:
Jane: Let’s go away. Anywhere. Just the two of us so we can be alone somewhere. Wouldn’t it be lovely?
Alain: I’m leaving you, Jane. I loved you because you were charming; because you realised all my dreams.
This doesn’t quite make sense as an explanation. In the next scene we see muddy water again – a symbol for death, maybe? – and Alain stood looking over the city at twilight.
A man plays guitar and Alain is listening with a woman. The next moment he is alone, smoking and wandering around. A girl is making a daisy chain and a guy is moaning about how things are changing; there are murders every day; people ripping people off; drug deals; how Haight is getting to be like a ghetto; how people don’t give money, candy or clothes away anymore.
Now Alain is reflected in some water – he seems to be with a woman.
The fire motif returns – I guess it can be seen as representing a volatile and destructive energy maybe? – and we see Alain against this fiery background.
Crazy Horse cabaret dancer Candy Capitol pops up and announces “I’m from the United States, actually I’m from California.” She takes her dress off and laughs, “But I’m a good girl,” as Alain looks on.
Another woman appears and dances around in thigh high boots, showing her buttocks. Alain watches this from behind a gauzy partition but doesn’t look terribly happy about it.
Alain is now at a party with a woman. Then Candy Capitol is there again and Alain is with another woman. I’m losing track…
Candy Capitol makes a speech as Alain looks on: “Socialism, communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into community wealth will ensure society of maintaining itself as a thoroughly healthy organism; it will in fact give life its proper basis and its proper environment. However, for the full development of life to its highest mode of perfections, something more is needed.”
I’m not totally sure about the purpose of this speech – whether it was a way of saying that whilst Candy Capitol may be a cabaret dancer, looked at primarily as a sex object, this does not preclude her from being intelligent and politically active, or whether the most important aspect of it all was to raise the idea of “something more” being needed. The “something more” is up for debate, of course.
More likely it is part of what could be a very long discussion on Sex-Power: Candy Capitol’s character, bubbly, cute and personable, does not at first glance appear to be as sexually threatening as the other characters – for example, Salome who openly expresses a wish to destroy Alain – but could actually pose a double threat: she may use her naked body to attract male attention, but at the same time she expresses her political opinions, which although maybe not radical feminist opinion could be seen to be a threat to men (she wants “something more” and sees a need for societal change); if you like, a wolf in sheep’s clothing – or no clothing in Candy Capitol’s case. But also, as a female she is sexually empowered – free and happy to show her body – and does so in such a way that the “erotic” aspect of it is lost beneath the political theorising.
Alain is once again show against a fiery, sunset sky and he is with a woman.
Alain reads in English from an unidentified text: “Christ, who loves people, lives alone. They, who hate themselves and everybody else live lonely and forsaken in big crowds; they are deadly afraid of each other.” The interesting thing to note with this is that Alain does seem to spend a lot of time alone, wandering around and he never seems to engage with very much that happens around him; he seems to be one of those people who look-on at life rather than living it and joining in. Whilst he would appear to be cerebral – his constant reading and quoting from texts – he doesn’t seem to have much of a personality. He gets away with it because he’s so damn good looking, of course.
The water motif again, passing by the ocean, Alain takes a car journey and winds up in some kind of Western town. He is topless – once more we see the woman and then we see Alain alone, reading and talking to himself.
Alain hitches a ride and winds up on a beach with a gang of hippies.
Alain, standing in front of the sea, reads to himself from an unidentified text: “If you are a man and you love a woman, you may start loving her the full way, wanting to melt into her as God has established it. How can you stop the flow of love?” – considering the relevance of the recurring water motif, I am not sure but water is a symbol for femininity and could also be relevant in that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born in the sea foam when Uranus’s genitals were cut off and thrown into the sea.
Alain walks on the beach with a woman; they hold each other and he carries her (he suddenly looks like Barry Ryan!). Alain, naked, holds a knife between them and lie with his body partly on the woman’s body. He stands in the sunset sky, arms outstretched – either in a gesture of surrender or in a Christ-like pose. Is Alain’s Christ in the desert giving in to temptation? The woman is now naked and shown in front of a fire – Alain is again shown in the Christ-like pose.
Just over half way through the film, 43 minutes in, we return to the dialogue used at the beginning: as Alain walks alone through the palm trees, he quotes from Ecclesiastes 9:11 “Je me suis tourné…”
The woman appears and speaks some dialogue I can’t quite decipher – “Reviens!”, she says, which could mean come back or turn back. Given that he has just returned to his original dialogue from the beginning of the film where he turned (Je me suis tourné), I wonder if he is turning back. He does not look at the woman as she speaks and eventually she falls to his feet.
Alain runs naked through the desert and appears to be waving a stick or a knife. He speaks, although I am not 100% sure I have understood the dialogue and I could find no source for it – this is what I believe he says: “Je te ramènerai sur mes épaules. Je te traînerai par les cheveux s’il le faut. Si tu t’évanouis, je te réveillerai avec des morsures, des claques, des caresses.” In English, something like: “I will bring you back on my shoulders. I will drag you by the hair if necessary. If you faint, I’ll wake you with bites, with slaps, with caresses.”
Now Alain is sitting with his head in the lap of a German woman, who quotes from Heinrich Heine’s The Lorelei: “Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, Daß ich so traurig bin” – “I don’t know what it signifies, that I am so sad.”
Alain also quotes Heinrich Heine in German: “Ich kann es nicht vergessen / Geliebtes, holdes Weib, / Daß ich dich einst besessen, / Die Seele und den Leib.” In English: “I cannot forget it, Beloved, devoted wife, That I once possessed you, Body and soul.”
It is interesting that the majority of communication between Alain and the various women in his life – including Jane – consist of quotes from literary sources as far as I can tell. They don’t actually communicate anything of themselves. But then, of course, the women are largely representations of femme fatale characters. I don’t know how I feel about Alain, actually. If his view of women is that they are either Madonnas (like Jane) or Whores (like the other women who all appear to be out to seduce and tempt Alain in order to manipulate, control and destroy him), he doesn’t seem like the l’homme-coeur he is supposed to be – I must admit I’m not 100% sure what L’Homme-Coeur means but l’homme de coeur means compassionate man or noble-hearted man. It doesn’t seem like he is noble-hearted – or is it just me? Maybe he is just considering whether the grass is greener on the other side, but why see all women as a threat?
Anyway, continuing with the film, Lorelei (played by Elga Andersen) continues quoting: “Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten, / Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn. / Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt, / Und ruhig fließt der Rhein; / Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt, / Im Abendsonnenschein.” In English, something like: “A tale from ancient times, / That does not leave my mind. / The air is cool and it darkens, / And calmly flows the Rhine; /The peak of the mountain sparkles, / In the evening sunshine.”
Again, of course, Lorelei poses a threat to Alain – tying in with the recurring water motif, Lorelei is a feminine water spirit, a siren who enchants and bewitches men by attracting and distracting them until they crash and die. But although Alain has his head in Lorelei’s lap he survives her temptations and we see him by the sea with another woman – the Siren runs along the beach and Alain lies down and tries to grab her feet as she dances around him.
Alain quotes something I can’t quite understand, but it sounds like: “Elle sort de terre, elle m’arrose de lumiere, chanteuse arabe, …chanteuse noire au petit matin, elle chante nue sous l’avalanche…” Assuming what I have heard is correct (and it may well not be!), in English it would be something like: “She emerges from the earth. She sprinkles me with light. Arabian singer…Black singer in the early morning, she sings naked under the avalanche…”
Now we are back with Jane, who looks sad as she plays with the mannequin hands. She took them by the wrist!
This time Alain quotes, in voice-off, the Wilde quote that Jane had previously used: “To love oneself, it’s the beginning of a life-long romance.”
Then we see Jane and Alain together – at another time (note that she is wearing a different outfit) with Alain once again quoting Nerval in what seems to be a return to the Break-Up Scene: “Je suis le Ténébreux…”
Jane is looking in a mirror and, as if anticipating the break-up, quoting Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol:“Each man kills the things he loves, by all let this be heard, some do it with a bitter look, some with a flattering word.”
For the second time Alain tells Jane, in slightly different words but still without quite finishing his speech: “I’m leaving you, Jane. I loved you because you were marvellous, because…”
We then see Alain and Jane in yet another scene, this time they are holding each other – Jane quotes Wilde’s De Profundis this time: “The only people I care to be with now are those that know what beauty is, those who know what sorrow is…”
Maybe it is a big mistake to try and decipher this film, I don’t know – it just brings up so many questions about relevance and meaning. For example, Wilde’s De Profundis sees Wilde identifying with Jesus Christ and seeing him as a romantic artist. From the start of Sex-Power it looks like Alain, through his journey, identifies with Jesus Christ and the spiritual experience. Maybe it’s all just coincidence and means nothing at all. Wilde is heavily quoted though.
Alain is now with a fortune teller woman (she does look like Bernadette Lafont, doesn’t she?) – he slightly misquotes Guillaume Apollinaire’s Signe : “Je suis soumis au signe de l’Automne, je déteste les fruits, j’aime les fleurs…” In English this would be something like: “I am bound to the sign of autumn, I hate fruit, I love flowers…”
I’m not totally sure of the relevance of the Apollinaire text, which is from the collection called Alcools but it should be noted that Alcools also included a poem called La Loreley, which is about – yes, you’ve guessed it! – Lorelei.
Alain then continues quoting Signe and the relevance becomes a little clearer, perhaps: “Une épouse me suit, c’est mon ombre fatale.” In English: “A wife follows me; this is my fatal shadow.” Then again, Alain quotes from Signe with: “ Je regrette chacun des baisers que je donne” In English, “I regret each kiss that I give.”
I can’t quite understand everything that the fortune teller says to Alain, which is a shame as it sounds quite interesting. In any case she seems to be referring to Lilith and la lune noire, which could be seen to be the Dark Side. This all seems to be relating to temptation and idealistic views – she says Lilith was the first wife of Adam, the opposite of Eve; Eve is the Moon, and the Black Moon is the second wife. It seems to be a test, to do with karma and narcissistic temptation. The fortune teller warns Alain that “Il faut l’éloigner par des incantations” – that Alain should use incantation to move the succubus away. She tells him that Lilith is “la femme redoubtable” – the formidable woman. Alain says he doesn’t know anything anymore.
Then the old Madonna-Whore Complex rears its ugly head again when the fortune teller asks Alain, “Souviens-toi de Marie l’Égyptienne?” Remember Mary of Egypt? Mary of Egypt, in case you don’t know (I didn’t – what can I say? I have led a sheltered life maybe) is the patron saint of penitents. Apparently she lived a bit of a life from a very young age and offered herself up sexually, often refusing money because she just wanted sex anyway. She eventually lived alone in the desert as penitence. When the fortune teller says to Alain that Mary of Egypt, “lived alone in the desert until her death,” he says “Mon coeur me fait si mal depuis qu’elle est partie” – “My heart hurts so much since she left”. But who is he talking about here? You would imagine that it’s Jane but isn’t he the one who said he was leaving her? That leaves a big question mark for me on the identity of the person he is referring to here.
I’m not sure about the wording here but the fortune teller tells Alain: “C’est la femme – épouse fidèle, soumise, c’est quelqu’un tout des vertues, ne cherche pas plus loin” “This is the woman – a faithful wife, submissive, someone totally virtuous, don’t look further.” It makes it seem like he is being told to go back to Jane but Alain is not sure and says: “L’ange que j’attendais n’est jamais venue.” The angel that I was waiting for never came…
Now Alain is seen lying down, topless, holding a big knife. Alain speaks but I’m not sure of the dialogue – he seems to say something like: “Mon amour est le mur contre lequel je m’ecraserai, ma chair est meurtri, mes larmes ne tombent plus sur mes pieds…” Again, something like: “My love is the wall against which I will crush myself, my flesh is bruised, my tears no longer fall upon my feet…”
Alain now looks on as Jane quotes from Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol again: “Each man kills the thing he loves, by all let this be heard, some do it with a bitter look, some with a flattering word. The brave man does it with a sword, the coward with a kiss, some kill their love when they’re young, and some when they’re old. Some strangle with the hands of lust, some with the hands of gold. The kind man does it with a knife, cos the dead so soon grow cold. Some love too little, some too long, some sell and others buy, for each man kills the thing he loves, but all men do not die.”
The next scene shows people walking across barren land with donkeys – a man dances in front of Alain and he walks away.
Now Alain is in a restaurant with a woman – he tells her: “Je t’ai imaginée sur une terrasse, cerné par le soleil…” “I imagined you on a terrace, surrounded by the sun…”
The woman tells Alain something along the lines of: “Je vais de bas en bas. Je regarde que tu n’aimes mêler à la foule. Je me donne en spectacle.” “I’m low down. I see you don’t like mingling with the crowd. I am an entertainer [this could also mean I make a show of myself, I’m not sure].”
She continues with some dialogue I can’t quite catch – something like: “…tu m’harcèles, tu me déchires…” “…You harass me, you tear me apart…”
Alain responds quoting from Jean Cocteau: “Il n’y apas d’amour, il n’y a que des preuves d’amour.” There is no love, there is only evidence [or proof] of love.
The woman quotes from Acte d’amour (Act of Love) by Cocteau: “Ecrire est un acte d’amour.” Writing is an act of love. Alain counters with another Cocteau quote: “S’il ne l’est pas il n’est qu’écriture.” If it’s not, it’s only writing.
The woman then misquotes Cocteau: “Il consiste à obéir aux plantes et aux arbres” (it should be “Il consiste à obéir au mécanisme des plantes et des arbres”). “It involves obeying the plants and trees.”
Alain again quotes from Acte d’amour: “Les femmes des îles du Pacifique accouchent dans la bouse afin de ne laisser croître que les enfants forts.” “The women of the Pacific Islands give birth in cow dung in order to allow them to only grow strong children.” Excuse the translation there, it doesn’t make a terrible amount of sense but then as you can see it’s now become less a matter of relevance of the text as just a tit-for-tat, call-and-response situation. The woman’s response I do not quite hear but she seems to ask, “Of what value are these acts?” It’s a good question to ask.
Alain is back with the fortune teller again, repeating his previous statement from Apollinaire’s Signe: “Je regrette chacun des baisers que je donne.” I’m starting to think that Alain might be a misogynist as when he quotes “je déteste les fleurs”, he is rejecting the symbol of femininity. Autumn is said to be the season of dead love, so for Alain to say he is bound to it maybe he is saying after all that his love for Jane is over. He regrets each of the kisses he gives. It doesn’t sound like reconciliation is on the cards…
Now we return to the scene we saw when we first encountered Jane – Alain carries Jane through the white tunnel. You could start to wonder whether he has killed the one he loves but in the next scene they are talking and laughing together. But we return to the white room with the white chairs and Alain is sitting there alone – off-screen Jane is quoting from Hamlet again “he took me by the wrist and held me hard”, she is repeating it, but now Jane and Alain are sitting together in the white chairs laughing and he is holding her wrist.
Then Alain walks into room of white chairs again and he is alone.
Salome returns looking as beautiful as ever. Alain is topless and walking around, he looks at Salome and says: “Ne me parlez pas! Je ne veux pas t’écouter.” I don’t know if it’s just me – and my hearing of what is being said – but he seems to move from using the formal vous to the familiar tu here. Anyway, in English it’s not so noticeable: “Don’t speak to me! I don’t want to hear you.”
There really does seem to be no hope for Alain and his relationships with women now as he quotes from Salome: “C’est par la femme que le mal est entré dans le monde.” “It is through woman that evil came into the world.”
Salome responds with “Tes cheveux sont horribles. Ils sont couverts de boue et de poussière . Je n’aime pas tes cheveux. C’est de ta bouche que je suis amoureuse, laisse-moi baiser ta bouche.” “Your hair’s horrible. It’s covered with mud and dust. I don’t like your hair. It’s your mouth I’m in love with, let me kiss your mouth.”
Alain replies with: “Mais couvrez votre visage avec un voile, et allez dans le désert chercher le fils de l’Homme.” “Cover your face with a veil. Go in the desert and look for the Son of Man.”
To which Salome asks: “Et qui est le fils de l’Homme? Est-il aussi beau que toi?” “And who is the Son of Man? Is he as handsome as you?”
I’m convinced that Alain actually thinks he is the Son of Man. He returns to a kind of Temptation of Christ in the desert act with: “Arriere! Je ne veux pas te regarder.” “Back! I can’t look at you.”
“I will kiss your mouth… but I will cut off your head,” says Salome.
And, yes, my suspicions were right – we are back in the desert again.
“Of what value are these acts?” And we return to the Let’s Go Away speech from Jane again: “O, come on! Let’s go away somewhere, anywhere! I don’t mind where. Anything where we can be alone.” But Alain doesn’t tell her this time that he is leaving her.
Alain is now alone and writing – remember “writing is an act of love”? But it’s not clear yet what the value is of this act. Alain seems to be saying: “Amour, prends-moi sur ta barque” but I could have heard that incorrectly as with anything else in this film! But let’s say it’s right and then it means, “Love, take me on your boat” or some such.
Alain is topless and stroking Jane as she sleeps – he sniffs her hair.
And then we are back to Nerval again: “Je suis le Ténébreux, le Veuf, – l’Inconsolé, Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la Tour abolie, Ma seule Etoile est morte et mon luth constellé Porte le Soleil noir de la Mélancolie.” But Alain smiles instead of looking sad this time.
Then we return once again to the You Made Me Realise What Love Really Was Scene, but on this occasion Jane says: “You came along and I realised they were all phoney; they were all speaking silly words. So you made me see what love was, really.”
Instead of moving straight on to the Break-Up Scene, we move on to see Alain looking at an enormous picture of himself on the wall. Narcissistic or what? Not sure if that’s got anything to do with the “To love oneself…” thing but I wouldn’t rule it out. Having said that, he does seem to have a knife in his hand, but then “Each man kills the thing he loves.” You never know…
Now we’re back in the desert and we see a woman on horseback. Alain is in the sand, and gets on the back of horse with her, naked – that’s gotta hurt, eh?
And then we go back to Jane who is lying down and doing her best Jane pout. She is reading Oscar Wilde once again, “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”
Then we return to the drawing scene. It’s the same as before – Alain watches as Jane sketches. Then they hug, as before, in front of the enormous photo of Alain on wall.
Jane, in off-screen narration, returns to her Wilde quotes: “I’m so glad that you’ve never done anything outside of yourself… Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.”
Alain is now in a rather brown looking house where everyone seems to be wearing brown and black. It looks like a dull party anyway. On the wall hangs a photograph – I’m not entirely sure but it could be Alla Nazimova as Salome.
In the next shot, there is a photo of Theda Bara on the wall – she also played Salome in a 1918 silent movie version of the story. In a voice-off we hear: “Je baiserai ta bouche, même dois-je couper ta tête.” I will kiss your mouth even if I have to cut off your head.
Alain looks on as several women try on jewellery – there is, yet again, that enormous picture of Alain on the wall. Then he moves away and sits down and one of the women looks over at him.
Alain starts reading from Othello: “La vertu! Une baliverne… C’est par nous-memes que nous sommes ainsi et ainsi. Nos corps sont des jardins, et nos volontés sont des jardiniers. Si la balance de notre vie n’avait un plateau de raison pour faire équilibre au plateau de sensualité, le sang et la bassesse de notre nature nous conduirait aux plus absurdes conclusions. Mais nous avons la raison pour rafraîchir nos émotions furieuses…”
“Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost’rous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions…”
Then Alain is crawling up the stairs; outside he sees light and a woman dancing.
We return to the fortune teller and her C’est la femme statement: “This is the woman – a faithful wife, submissive, someone totally virtuous, don’t look further.”
But Alain goes off crawling up the stairs again – the first time he crawled up the stairs he crawled past other people and saw Juliette, the unattainable woman, dancing – this time the stairs are clear and he crawls up them, then sees a light, but this time there is no dancing woman. On the other side we see Alain but he is no longer wearing his shirt – is this some other time? Who can say? He is with Kate and Jane who is sleeping – Alain kisses her and the film ends there on a freeze frame – Alain, Jane and Kate frozen in time and happy.
The photo remains for 13 seconds before the film comes to an end and we still don’t know whether Alain overcame his fear of commitment and stayed with Jane or not. I’d like to think that he did but maybe it is just a moment in time and that moment has passed. Like Alain, I don’t know anything anymore.
Well, that was hard work and I’m not even sure anyone will have stayed the course to have read this thing through. Still, for anyone who does not speak French it might be of some help if/when you view the film at least, maybe? Otherwise, just think of it as a hippie road movie, a mystical journey or a dream poem – it’s probably a whole lot easier!
Other information about the film:
The working title for Sex-Power was L’Homme-Coeur, which is the alternative name for Alain’s character.
Henry Chapier won the Silver Shell Award at San Sebastián International Film Festival in 1969 for his work on Sex-Power. Due to my love of all things Gainsbourg-Birkin, I know Henry Chapier for his role in the film Erotissimo (dir Gérard Pirès, 1969) and also for his TV show Le Divan; he interviewed Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg on the show on separate occasions in the 1980s.
Henry Chapier also had a role in the film Les Idoles (dir Marc’O, 1968), in which Bernadette Lafont played Soeur Hilarité. Bernadette Lafont also appeared alongside Jane Birkin in Trop jolies pour être honnêtes(dir Richard Balducci, 1972) but she was, of course, better known for her roles in loads of high profile films directed by Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut (amongst others).
The actress Juliette Villard, who played Juliette in Sex-Power, died just a year after the film was made.
Leila Shenna, who played the Siren, was in very little but later turned up as an air hostess in Moonraker.
Elga Andersen (Lorelei) was in Lift to the Scaffold and Bonjour Tristesse and Le Mans (with Steve McQueen). Apparently she became a singer and sang the title song to The Guns of Navarone.
Jane Birkin, Alain Noury and Henry Chapier on the set of Sex-Power