There’s something elegant about Soderbergh’s debut Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which earned him the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. Soderbergh, the youngest director to win the award, kick-started 90’s independent cinema with his mature, otherworldly, yet grounded examination of — well — sex, lies, and videotape.
Soderbergh — who was twenty-six at the time — tells a story in need of an experienced understanding from its director: a story of grand importance, but also personal, and small. The story of a bored, inhibited housewife (Andie MacDowell), and her lying husband (Peter Gallagher). The story of Graham (James Spader), who is a mysterious observer, impotent, and serious. And the story about how these characters crash into each other, and change.
Soderbergh wrote the script in eight days, causing a film that breathes naturally, but almost frivolously. In Sex, Lies, and Videotape, we don’t get a deconstruction of theme, but instead a construction of moments and ideas. The characters are grounded and familiar, and their arc profound. But whether or not the ideas are universal is unclear. The transformations of the characters are effective, but do they ring true?
Sex, Lies, and Videotape examines all three with honesty and realism but doesn’t portray a more general truth. The truth the film does manage to find may not affect the audience, but it certainly creates a tour de force of character and cinema.