"Voyage en douce" is an insufferable tease, sustained only by the prurient suggestion that two well-known actresses -- Dominique Sanda and Geraldine Chaplin -- may eventually fondle in front of your astonished eyes. Nothing of the sort happens, of course, and you know it never would outside the conventions of a hard-core film.
Sanda and Chaplin pretend to be flirty chums sharing steamy erotic anecdotes over the course of a weekend prowl through the Midi. Chaplin's character, Lucie, runs to Sanda's character, Helene, after an argument with her husband. The grounds for the spat are made to seem ridiculous when Lucie changes her story three times in rapid succession. Helene pets her and then invites her on a weekend house-hunting drive in the countryside.
Despite incessant hints of a latent lesbian attraction about to erupt into overt hanky-panky, the co-stars never appear to have serious erotic designs on one another. They may not have been smart enough to reject this disreputable vehicle, and Chaplin once again proves herself the actress most susceptible to stripping on a flimsy pretext, but it's a comfort to see that the actresses are inclined to protect each other and unable to satisfy the filmmaker's taste in titillation. With the exception of one incongruously harrowing rape episode, recreated exclusively on the soundtract over scenic panoramas of the women strolling through the countryside, the sexual anecdotes seem perversely insipid.
In fact, they'd be better suited to a movie with comic intentions -- perhaps a satire of the These Are My Craziest Sex Fantasies genre. How about a variation on "Voyage en douce" for two comediennes, playing best-selling sex authors trying to top each other's outrageous toppers during a literary lost weekend?
"Voyage en douce" is surely the idle erotic doodle of a male director who lacks the nerve or ingenuity to follow through on his lurid premise. Michel Deville has always been something of an ineffectual tease. His 1967 costume romp "Benjamin" promised more erotic diversion than it delivered, but it did have a lush photogenic surface. "Voyage en douce" takes place mostly in bedrooms and sun-drenched pastoral locations, but it lacks a sensuous pictorial gloss. The erotic surface is as thin as the content.