Directed by French filmmaker Claire Devers, who also wrote the screenplay, NOIR ET BLANC is a tale of sadomasochistic obsession, based on the Tennessee Williams short story "Desire and the Black Masseur."
Antoine (Francis Frappat) is an accountant, pale, thin, and cheerless, who lives life with his drab girlfriend Edith (Claire Rigollier) in a dull and unobtrusive manner. He takes a job organizing the books at a health club, and the owner (Marc Berman) invites him to use the facilities. Antoine
shows little interest until he spots Dominique (Jacques Martial), an imposing black man who works as one of the club's masseurs. Antoine agrees to a massage and finds himself sexually aroused by Dominique's rough handling of his frail body.
The experience awakens something deep within Antoine, and as he returns for massage after massage, Dominique's treatment becomes rougher and rougher. After one session, a cleaning woman finds pools of blood on the floor of the massage room. Edith becomes concerned when she sees the cuts and
bruises that cover Antoine's body, but Antoine grows sullen and withdrawn when she asks, telling her that he fell at work. One evening, Dominique breaks Antoine's arm. The club owner, hearing Antoine's cries, catches the two men in the act and orders them off the premises. Dominique takes Antoine
to the hospital, but later sneaks back to help him escape. The two take a room at a cheap hotel where they resume the massages sessions. Describing his need for pain, Antoine convinces Dominique to "hit him with all his might." Dominique hesitantly agrees, and takes Antoine to an abandoned factory
where he chains Antoine's arms and legs to the powerful machinery. Dominique then flips a switch, and as the gears groan to life, Antoine's body is torn apart.
Despite its lurid subject matter, NOIR ET BLANC's tone is icily reserved; it could never be accused of titillating audiences or appealing to their baser instincts. Very little is actually shown: the extreme violence of the story is implied through sound rather that gory images. Devers is clearly
as interested--if not more so--in form as she is in content. While the title alludes to both Antoine and Dominique, who is black, it also refers to the fact that the film is shot in cool, severe black and white. Her cinematographers capture a Paris that's shabby, cluttered and oppressively
ordinary, while the health club is shown in compositions that reinforce the notion that it's a world to itself, defined by white tile, ominous weight machines that could as easily be torture devices, and the cool depths of the pool whose water laps quietly at its edges.
NOIR ET BLANC's aspirations are considerable. First and foremost it's a character study, following the transformation of Antoine from a man whose life is a study in control and conformity to one who's in the grip of an obsession so powerful that its consequences are quite literally fatal. NOIR ET
BLANC observes where an American film would be more likely to explain; the viewer must deduce from Antoine's actions those inclinations and experiences that fostered the masochistic streak that eventually overwhelms him. The film never succumbs to the temptation to have him--or any one
else--reveal some traumatic childhood experience that lies at the heart of his compulsion to degrade and ultimately eradicate himself.
NOIR ET BLANC attempts to chronicle an obsessional relationship without resorting to histrionics; there are no fights, no screaming arguments, no grand theatrical gestures. Antoine's increasing dependence on Dominique is presented matter-of-factly, underscored formally by the heightened sound in
the massage scenes--hollow slaps, moans and thuds of flesh against flesh dominate the soundtrack, suggesting that the rest of the world is slipping away, paling in importance.
It also completely ignores Dominique as a character; his importance is completely a function of his importance to Antoine, as an image or vessel through which Antoine's desires can be channeled. The result is a film whose focus is incredibly narrow without being particularly profound. (Violence,adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: Directed by French filmmaker Claire Devers, who also wrote the screenplay, NOIR ET BLANC is a tale of sadomasochistic obsession, based on the Tennessee Williams short story "Desire and the Black Masseur." Antoine (Francis Frappat) is an accountant, pale,… (more)