There’s an ever more prevalent, if still marginalized, subgenre in international films today that is difficult to classify. In such films as Larry Clark‘s “Bully” and Gael Morel‘s “Le Clan” (released here as “Three Dancing Slaves“), groups of teenagers descend into violent oblivion while the filmmakers dispassionately, purposely objectify their supple flesh. The gap between the actions of the characters and the voyeurism of the filmmakers makes for an awkward, sometimes stimulating dialogue, even if it also leaves the actors somewhat adrift. The recurring image of these films are young, lithe bodies, supine, entangled: in “Le Clan,” three eye-catching brothers lay together in a tableau less motivated by their characters than the filmmaker’s whims. In “One to Another,” French co-directors Pascal Arnold and Jean-Marc Barr have their young actors lie atop, next to, and around each other with youthful, sexual abandon, and in a move similar to Morel’s, intimate an incestuous relationship between the film’s two main characters, brother and sister Pierre (Arthur Dupont) and Lucie (Lizzie Brochere), just by the sheer level of proximity and undress the two seem to share. It’s a teasing, half-formed approach to character, and the film, tiptoeing around its own narrative and ideas of sexuality, feels not fully formed.
The story itself, which Arnold based on a true story he read in the newspaper, concerns the murder of Pierre, and the investigation into his death taken up by Lucie. Floating in and out of the past and present without warning (often, you’ll only know what timeframe you’re in if Pierre enters the frame, hale and hearty), “One to Another” follows the distraught Lucie’s attempts to untangle the truth, although more often than not the film feels much less interested in the outcome of the mystery than in the myriad flashbacks presenting the malleable sexuality of hot Pierre and his even hotter friends, often seen shirtless (and in the film’s first, and best image, beat-boxing as afternoon silhouettes against a sunny red rock wall) and in various states of canoodling, sometimes with Lucie, sometimes with each other. It’s Pierre’s declared bisexuality that anchors the group of friends (who also perform together at local clubs in a small-time band), the rest of whose sexual preference remains as vague as their personalities, which usually seem shell-shocked either with grief or perhaps guilt.
“One to Another” almost forthrightly eschews forward motion or drama in its depiction of all this angst, favoring a shooting style so definitively casual that it’s hard to muster up much visual interest. Dupont’s Pierre of course remains a necessary abstraction, yet Brochere’s Lucie often comes across as even more inert. Most easily identified by their matching birthmarks, Pierre and Lucie stick in the mind as flesh and little more; perhaps that was the intention, as it is uttered in the film, “Only a body can know another body.” Yet one can’t help but want for a little soul to finish off the equation.
Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor at the Criterion Collection.