Sex and scribbles in shallow Deception

Philip Roth adaption features writer with high-brow yet animalistic lifestyle

Friday, 3rd June — By Dan Carrier

Deception_photo_Shanna Besson-Why Not Productions

Art for art’s sake: Deception. Photo: Shanna Besson / Why Not Productions

Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Certificate: 15

THIS Philip Roth adaption has a lead who is a writer called, wait for it, Philip Roth. If that sounds indulgent, brace yourself. From a stylish London bolthole – the sort of writerly place that exists in the imaginations of those who read the classified ads at the back of the London Review of Books – he scribbles in Moleskine notebooks, uses a typewriter and pens letters.

Roth (Denis Podalydes) plays sophisticated music, lounges about, and has sex with his much younger lover (Leya Seydoux).

While conducting this high-brow yet animalistic lifestyle from what looks like a drawing room in a Georgian house in Hampstead, we are given a tour of his sex life. Why we might be interested is a crucial question that hangs over Deception.

Should we consider the relationships between the writer and the women he slept with? Is this about a #MeToo world, an older man conditioned by a sexist society to believe his actions were acceptable, coming to terms with his behaviour? Is this about the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of purely carnal relationships?

Perhaps it is about how, for all our capacity for love, we die alone?

A parade of his “conquests” (what a disgusting term) includes a New Yorker, stricken with cancer, who with death approaching makes Roth understand the importance of relationships he had selfishly pursued. Others who drift past include an English actress and a Czech-born woman who sees in him the traits of the oppressive atmosphere of Cold War Europe.

Desplechin includes moments where the LRB-fantasy backdrop morphs into a cavernous space, as if we are clambering clumsily into the lovers’ psyche. It feels like an incoherent attempt to break the fourth wall and at best, is confusing.

The programming of French language films in the UK is still niche. As a nation, a majority watch films made in Britain or the USA. French film as an export has suffered from being seen as the preserve of chain-smoking, turtle-neck sweater-wearing poseurs. If someone stepping into an Art House cinema for the first time were to see Deception, any xenophobic preconceptions would surely be reinforced by this avant-garde film that wanders with little care whether the viewer is tagging along too.

Deception is, at least, like nothing else in your cinema this week.

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