Manoumalia (LesNez)

In the film Manon 70, Sami Frey, innocently shaving at the bathroom mirror, stumbles into a classic bedpost notch argument with his passive-aggressive lover, played by a lovely Parisian woman with sad eyes, who happens to be taking a bath. In an American film, this battle of the sexes trope would lead to a full score of strained, sarcastic dialogue before collapsing into tired Disneyland kissing, with just enough bare shoulders and soap suds to warrant a PG-13 rating. In a bid to appeal to adults and gain the coveted R rating, the director would ask one of the actors to say "fuck" at strategic intervals that would render the editor helpless. People arguing in a bathroom? The F word? Kissing and the unseen implication of sex in a tub? The only thing that could make us feel even smarter would be for Jim Jarmusch to direct and film the whole thing in faux 16 mm black and white, with the requisite faux graininess intact.

The French have a different view of sophistication. Instead of boring sarcastic witlessness and Hallmark card smoochies, why not have the argument between the two become curt and raw? Why not have the heroine act slighted and angry at Mr. Frey, which would naturally make her irresistible, and draw him to her like a bug to a bulb? Then, just when the idiots across the pond would cue the fake consensual romance, why not shoot a rape scene? Have Mr. Frey push and pry against her resistant body until the sheer pressure of ceramic against flesh forces the helpless woman to submit? Stateside, this would have the ratings board condemning the picture with a triple-X label, to be viewed by perverts only. Perhaps in the hands of a less talented French writer, such a scene would falter in Europe also, but not in Manon 70. When the subtly violent sexual encounter is finished, Deneuve glows in a halo of intense satisfaction and says, "Swear I'm the first woman you've ever raped." End scene.

Manoumalia is basically the olfactory equivalent of such a scene. Its indulgent ylang-ylang explosion is decadent but focused, shrewdly upheld by a gaggle of quieter white floral tones after Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel. For perhaps two hours, LesNez's perfume seems like a one-trick pony, a gorgeously tired trick, the sweet white soliflore. As the day progresses, the nuances play out, and the complexity of the structure reveals itself, rife with cinnamon, peppery spice, vetiver, sandalwood, lily, and musk. Anaïs Anaïs is perhaps the more American of the two, very direct, sweet, and clean to a fault, but Manoumalia aggresses, overtaking the senses with a rich headiness before tapering down to a resilient sigh. The late Sandrine Videault was a beautiful, charismatic woman, very much a talent of the world, and much like those unforgettable French flicks of yesteryear, her work here haunts imagination and memory.

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