Canadian director Monia Chokri isn’t big on Hollywood romance movies that glorify unavailable men who eventually become the prize of women chasing them.
“It’s been done, so I don’t need to do another Pretty Woman,” she dismissively tells The Hollywood Reporter about The Nature of Love, a French-language film about two people from different classes falling in love at first sight, that has been screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival’s Horizons section after its world premiere in Cannes.
For Chokri, romance is a surrogate for female expression as her tragicomedy tackles how women view themselves sexually and behave among men. “It’s about what she feels in her mind,” the director says of Sophia, a 40-year-old Montreal philosophy professor played by Magalie Lépine-Blondeau.
Sophia is in a stable, yet sex-less relationship with her partner Xavier (Francis William Rheaume), but finds her sexual desire is reawakened, as if from a coma, when she falls for Sylvain, played by Pierre Eves Cardinal, a charismatic handyman in flannel shirts and jeans renovating her new country cottage.
As their torrid affair unfolds and their worlds are turned upside down, Sophia as a strong female character becomes a blend of sensuality, smarts and wit as society’s much-contested borders around monogamy and affairs are explored with a mixture of comedy and drama.
Rather than have Sophia in sex scenes scantily clad or nude and in varied compromising positions, Chokri’s camera rarely strays from Lépine-Blondeau’s face or words during their intimacy. “The sex scenes are pretty vocal. It’s more about what they say than what we see. We know she’s excited. It’s not about that. It’s about what she feels in her mind,” the director explains.
By contrast, Chokri points to Sam Levinson’s controversial HBO drama The Idol, where Lily Rose Deep in scenes where she masturbates fixates on her own body. “I did the opposite. I don’t want to say The Idol is wrong. But that way is pretty classical, to objectify the body of a woman,” she explains.
“That’s why when my character masturbates herself, she sees the parts of Sylvain’s body, and not herself,” Chokri adds. But beyond a wealthy woman in a mid-life crisis abandoning herself to romantic desire as both lovers try to break free of their intellectual and class divides, The Nature of Love asks of the movie audience, if opposites attract, can that last?
“When you meet someone with passion, you project a lot of things on this person, who can be your total fantasy. And then comes real life,” she observes. “When they start to think of their worlds that come from their own values, it starts to become more difficult and fragile,” Chokri adds as Sophia and Sylvain during the second half of the film become less physical and more focused on a future together where, having earlier surrendered to sexual desire, they may have to leave it behind to possibly marry.
The Nature of Love is Chokri’s third feature after the actress-turned-director’s second film, Babysitter, bowed at Sundance.
About her next project, only now being written, the Canadian director was tightlipped, except to say it will be shot in France as a co-production with Marie-Ange Luciani, a producer of Justin Triet’s Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall.