It’s premiered in Venice Days, and we begin with the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “When Larry Clark released his excellent film Bully in 2001, I wrote that just as Cézanne said Monet ‘was just an eye, but my God what an eye,’ so Clark was just a pervy old voyeur, but my god what a pervy old voyeur. Well, even this beady-eyed gift seems to be deserting him now. His connoisseurship, visual sense and expertise in transgressive eroticism are dwindling. The photographer and filmmaker who made his sensational debut with Kids, nearly 20 years ago, returns yet again to the activity of gloating over young people’s bodies, with huge amounts of explicit sex. But the party looks to be well and truly over.”
“The Smell of Us is a film so horrible it manages to significantly outdo the repulsiveness of its title,” writes Jessica Kiang for the Playlist. “Having waded through Clark’s entire back catalogue some time ago (the things we do for Film Criticism), we were semi-apologists for his last movie, Marfa Girl, in which amid the sine qua non teen sex we thought we detected the green shoots of a more narrative-based direction, as well as some coherent characterization. The Smell of Us however, jettisons all of that in its portrait of disaffected youth (what else?) in Paris in favor of mindlessly repetitive and 100%, no-question-about-it exploitative, sequences of pretty young men engaging in various sexual activities. But that’s not to say Clark has nothing new up his crusty sleeve—this time out he’s added himself to the mix, appearing on camera alongside the objects of his lurid attention, and thus we have achieved an event horizon of skeeziness.”
Variety‘s Peter Debruge: “Somehow, the fact that these are French kids makes the film seem less likely to shock the world, even though the kinks are far more explicit here than anything but Ken Park—not that Clark is any stranger to the NC-17 rating, the relevance of which he handily undercuts, simply by reminding that in the Internet era, minors can see (and do) far worse online…. Of course, some will claim that Clark is exploiting his subjects (this project had a notoriously rocky production, alienating some of the original cast, covered in detail by the French press), though the pic is far from pornographic. Instead of trying to excite, the helmer chronicles a kind of sickening numbness.”
Vittoria Scarpa for Cineuropa: “The prostitution of these decadent young people, drawn to easy money and promiscuous to the bone, is at the heart of Clark’s story, which at first glorifies their naked, sweaty bodies, then goes on to humiliate them as they are being subjected to the filthy old men caressing them inappropriately and to other kinds of disgusting sex…. The director is uncompromising when it comes to representing human degradation, particularly the kind that sees more-than-mature people – both men and women – take advantage of young, beautiful bodies, literally frothing at the mouth.”
“Absent a narrative throughline, many of the shots are stitched together by the almost constant stream of loud and punchy songs on the soundtrack, much of it from the hand of Jonathan Velasquez, one of the leads from Clark’s Wassup Rockers,” notes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter.