A beautiful woman enters a gay discotheque where she encounters a curious man who will follow her and spend three evenings exploring sexual brutality. Sounds like the plot of an erotic thriller guaranteed to tease and please, but was instead the story behind French filmmaker Catherine Breillat’s novel, Pornocracy. Adapted from her controversial 2004 film Anatomy of Hell, it was one of her first novels to be published in English. Despite the steamy tale and intentions of exploring female sexuality, Pornocracy barely simmers, and rather than empowering, only leaves readers confused and bitterly wanting more.
Breillat is no stranger to revealing human sexuality in a different light. Accused of being a “porno auteuriste” in her native Paris, she’s written and directed films that explore the power of sex and how it can forever impact a woman. Some of her most popular films include 2001’s Fat Girl, where a 13-year-old witnesses her older sister having painful anal sex with an older Italian student. Six years later, The Last Mistress wowed audiences when an engaged suitor makes a final visit to his Spanish lover. Consequently, their ten years of lovemaking stirs gossip in Paris, only proving that old habits die hard. In Anatomy of Hell, a woman attempts suicide at a gay nightclub where she’s discovered by a male patron. She then asks the man to watch her for four days, during which she shares her views on sexuality. The novel’s version seems more enticing, but is sadly nothing more than a bore that only delights at the end. Although it’s shocking that such an accomplished and inspiring filmmaker could greatly disappoint, the first few pages easily explain why.
As a director, Breillat’s role is to show her audience a message through the usage of characters that all serve a distinct purpose. Pornocracy does the one thing that few writers accomplish: show too much without telling enough. Her language is strikingly poetic, almost wanting her readers to ignore this major flaw. In describing the sensual night, she states, “The teeth through those lips, those lips slightly moistened, glistening with saliva that, like the spider’s thread, can stretch as clear filament, filled with bubbles.” Breillat brilliantly takes a bodily fluid often ignored, or viewed as revolting, and makes an intimate characteristic of sexuality that can be seen in either gender.
The lack of dialogue makes the story less entertaining and more of a psychological analysis of a woman attempting to seduce a gay man. Many of her points are valid, but prove too overbearing and tiresome for a novel. She later writes, “…whatever their love or their hate, as their penises cannot fill the woman’s sex, which is made to expand for giving birth. No member can hope to reach the size of the son it begets. Thus their claim to fury is vain…” Breillat’s theory on how men tirelessly attempt to overpower women with their penises, but never achieve their highest expectations is intriguing. However, does this analysis fit in a sexuality textbook rather than a novel? If so, should a work of fiction solely entertain or stir an unexpected emotion from the reader, rather than attempt to educate? Either way, Pornocracy reads like a never-ending poem that looses its meaning after a few pages.
Breillat may be an excellent director who can tell stories of females’ roles when it comes to sex, but her novel didn’t serve its purpose in telling why a woman would pursue a gay man just to have a brutal affair. The scenery could only be guessed, dialogue was lacking, the characters seem more like a stream of consciousness than real people, and the story wasn’t believable. If given the opportunity, readers may want to vote on Breillat trying again with another novel that doesn’t read like a screenplay.