Love, Math, and Sex
Roughly four days after I saw Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed Get Out and combed through the many think pieces—mostly on interracial [POC + yt] relationships and white supremacy—that it yielded, I found my newfound attraction to Turkish star, George Corraface, led me to Charlotte Silvera’s drama, C’est la tangente que je préfère (also known as Love, Sex, and Math for its English title). The film centers the timeless trope of fresh innocence crowning, concealing, and catalyzing naïve predatory proclivities. The film not only centers the trope, but transmutes it as a motif and narrative device rather than a mere element of character.
However, to read the film as a simple story about masks, musings, and manipulate is to ignore its contemptuous commentary on the eroticism of erraticism, capitalism, and critical race relations. Silvera showcases the hubris of happenstance, subverts its, and illustrates the ignorance of uncritical, unevidenced idealism.
Julie Delarme plays Sabine, a 15-year-old math whiz from France, whose catharsis is defined by her relationship to Jiri, a Praguian (and Turkish) national and director, played by George Corraface. When Sabine isn’t charging her classmates for tutoring, lifting tips from waiters, or irking her impoverished parents, she esteems existentialism through incorrigible ideations of arithmetic.
Initially, Silvera invites us to observe Sabine’s daily life in scenes that are signifiers of youth: classes, courtyards, and clusters of companions. The amicable ambiance changes on a crowded [street] car ride when she firsts spots Jiri seated in the back. It is through her contrast of him and her friends that we see she internalizes in isolation. She dispirits her youth while her friends and elders respective celebrate or envy it.
The sight of Jiri as well as the revelation of her inarticulate intrigue and aloof attraction to him incline her to adopt reductionist, reactionary attitude onward. She rationalizes chance encounters with him afterward as a mathematical likeness of probability and resolves that a third chance encounter evidences some connection, that serves as grounds for her to pursue him erotically albeit aromantically. Through her musings on his adulthood, his “finished” development—as opposed to the ongoing, unsteady growth of her peers and stubborn stagnance the fickle elders that prod her—she associates him with strength and sensuality.
But, her parents’ indigence and iniquity compels her capitalism and materialism despite any romanticism. Any tenderness is overturned by transactional thinking wherein there is only significance in a sale or monetary value. Her first date and sexual encounter with Jiri (with anyone) concludes with her snatching banknotes from his dresser, saying that nothing is for free; and subsequently insists he solicit her sexually in which money will mark a mutually beneficial arrangement.
The carnality of coincidence, of love being likened to luck, sex, and sentimentality, is desensitized as Sabine commands cold, hard capital. She uses math as a device to distance herself intellectually and impersonally from everyone around her, including those her own age. Math is a means of protection and mobility, sparing her from interacting interpersonally with her own peers and affording her a path to academic sponsorship above her current [status] class. Likewise, her interest in math wanes as her love for Jiri flourishes.
And, so does her perception of positionality start to bloom. A misread altercation with Jiri leads her to believe he’s cheated on her, which sets her on a dark downward spiral. She gravitates to her parents pessimistically through self-harm and self-deprecation. This side of her is representative of basic hostility since she alienates and aggresses everyone around her, including her parents, with visibly unfounded anger or annoyance.
This Sabine illustrates how a propensity for profit does not translate to prowess or principle. She cultivates cash, not consciousness or a capacity to discern complexities. Her aversion arises from not only her understanding of Jiri’s betrayal, but also of a betrayal of math because she discovers that hard sciences are not solutions to hard problems. Her ingenious insights of math and intermittent outbursts reflect the absence of reasoning and thus reckoning in capitalism.
To spite Jiri, Sabine reports him to the authorities, alleging that he sexually abused her (i.e. corruption of a minor) although we know she concealed her age from him from an earlier exchange [and there’s no justification for him indulging her after finding out]. It is not only this falsehood that unnerves me, but her sense of entitlement. Reflective glances coupled with this venture of vengeance evidence that she understands her position as well as the weight of her report.
Distinctions of race and realization are shown through sharp contrasts in skin tone and temperament; distinctions that parallel my own positionality as a Black woman and film scholar whose lens is perpetually as well as personally darkened (no pun intended) by: critical race theory, blood memory, and knowledge as well as lineage connected to a not so distant colonial past.
For me, Sabine’s spiteful, fabricated report of Jiri reminds me of the infamous tragic case of Emmett Till: an African American boy who was murdered on the accusation that he’d whistled at a white woman—an accusation that came from a white woman. An accusation that was admittedly false decades after his death and the acquittal of his murderers.
Along with Sabine, we later find out that Jiri never cheated on her, but was merely having dinner with a [female] colleague; and even then, she neither feels or admits to any wrongdoing regarding that report. The absorbent fee for withdrawing the charge is her only concern upon their reconciliation. It is through this we see that more than she ‘loves’ him, she dehumanizes him as a trinket that will tether her own catharsis. This is much like how white supremacy and eurocentrism demote the needs of Others as inferior or inconsequential in addition to completely devaluing them, only to regulate our existences if we dare want to exist.
C’est la tangente que je préfère disillusions its audience of any notion that romance is manifest in materialism and asserts the reality of race and rationalism surpassing rapport. It cautions us to think through behaviours and motifs as intent rather than innocent or instinctive. Silvera puts forth that not only are romance and rationalism no match for the crude caveat of capitalism, but are made moot against the ire of whiteness and antagonisms that augment worldviews. For, the ignorance of youth is not exception to the knowledge of whiteness.