Caught masturbating during biology class, Romain (Mathias Melloul)’s suspension from school inadvertently sparks a new age of sexual openness in his family life. When mother Claire (Valérie Maës) resolves to take a greater interest in the sex lives of her children: adopted daughter Marie (Leïla Denio), eldest son Pierre (Nathan Duval) and reluctant virgin Romain, along with her husband Hervé’s (Stephan Hersoen) widower father (Yan Brian), she hopes to bring her family closer together and knock down the boundaries that have formed between them over recent years.
Opening their film with a viral video depicting teenage onanism, directors Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr are quick to overcome any initial shock value in the hope of desensitising their audience to the apparent taboo of sexuality in cinema. From this point on, nothing is off-limits or under-represented as Sexual Chronicles of a French Family touches on first times, ménages-a-trois, prostitution and sex between the elderly with an honesty and matter-of-factness that challenges conventional controversy.
Unfortunately, once the explicit depictions of simulated (but surprisingly realistic) sex are trivialised to the point at which Arnold and Barr clearly intend, there is little left in their fifth film together to engage on any interesting level aside from occasional wit and frequent in-depth discussion of the sex that we were/are/about to be seeing. The likeable, naturalistic and admirably fearless cast duly bare all in the name of cinematic progress – Romain’s determined, awkward attempts to lose his virginity striking truer than many of the more stigma-baiting sex scenes – but once the clothes are back on the filmmakers interest seems to waver.
As such, it is Melloul who inevitably makes the biggest impression, a prematurely world-weary voice over coupled with his ongoing frustrations helping to endear his character in a way that under-realised siblings Marie and Pierre never quite achieve. While the ensemble is affable enough, the film itself rarely shows any sign of being more than soft-core pornography, run through with a strangely cautious sentimentality that leaves the most enduring taboos regretfully unchallenged. We get it: sex is fun. Unless it’s being directed by Arnold and Barr, that is.