Lovers and Other Strangers

"Swinging" documentary lays bare the complexities of sexual liberation.


directed by Joe and Harry Gantz

runs Sept. 13-19 at Varsity

JAMES MET THERESA when he was a paramedic and she was a nurse and the sight of her washing an incapacitated patient's genitals turned him on. Welcome to love in the year 2002. Yet what distinguishes this documentary about heterosexual couples who live the "swinging" lifestyle is that, at its best, the film is less about sex than the conflicted emotions that underlie The Act.

Sex With Strangers concerns three committed couples exploring their sexuality with like-minded folk. All of them drop trou and get down to it in all kinds of fascinating, unappetizing ways. Middle-aged James and Theresa prowl the country in their RV, plainly discussing their love of "the hunt." Shannon and Gerard have a child and a constant battle over "the rules" of their adult game. In the film's coup, Calvin, a manipulative little bastard in his 20s, strings along his mousy girlfriend, Sara, and a deluded hopeful named Julie.

It's pointless to question just how the filmmakers were allowed such intimate access at a time when private lives are routinely exposed for public consumption. Previously responsible for HBO's reality series Taxicab Confessions, Joe and Harry Gantz are no strangers to this arena. They just lie back and let it all happen, and what happens is so frequently astonishing that you can't help but wish they'd lob an on-camera challenge or two at the protagonists. When James is visibly upset by his wife sexually enjoying other women without his help (a recurrent theme among the men), it'd be great to hear how he justifies his own hypocrisy.

But nobody seems judged in the Gantz brothers' laissez-faire approach. Their subjects are caught in honest self-reflection. While a a few are content, most are despairing; a climactic wedding ceremony has to be seen to be believed.

Interestingly, the women here seem trapped by the cliché ´hat monogamy automatically traps you in an Ozzie and Harriet-like existence. Their everyday confusions about what it means to love someone keep them swinging for fear of not being sufficiently sexually liberated. "Sometimes I think I'm doing it for the wrong reasons," Sharon confesses. This is Strangers' most compelling final irony: how we sometimes find ourselves imprisoned by our own deceptive freedom.

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