WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?

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Leave it to the French to put the ooh-la-la back into latex. When the French Ministry of Health wanted to boost the erotic merits of condoms and get more frolicking French folk to use them, naturally they did what every government agency would do. They produced five hard-core porn shorts. Yes, while New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is shutting down titty bars, the French government is rounding up porn stars and paying them to perform in pro-boner -- sorry, pro bono -- sex-education loops.

The films were produced in conjunction with the government by Canal Plus, a French pay station known for its innovative programming, including the latest adult videos, which are shown late-night with the ads sandwiched between them. According to Luc Speisser, who is in charge of coordination for National Communication of AIDS at the French Ministry of Health, the directors were given creative carte blanche as long as the condom message clearly came across.

The French agency handling the job, Euro RSCG Corporate, had the idea to hire renowned "legit" directors to shoot the pieces. Says head planner Jean-Philippe Martzel, "I think that when people know this movie is made by a young [mainstream] director, they look at it differently."

Director Marc Caro of Premiere Heure, whose heavily stylized features include Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, takes the cake with the most innovative and bizarre of the pieces, the 90-second "Exercice de Steel" -- a futuristic fantasy filled with bouncing women and stunningly elaborate metallic sex machines. The point is, when sharing sex toys, it's important to change condoms.

The concept evolved in Caro's "sick mind," he jokes. The machines were created in post with Jean-Michel Ponzio at Buf, using Softimage and Mantal Ray to animate Caro's drawings.

Screening it around the office here at Creativity, we found few who would call "de Steel" erotic. Is it perhaps a cultural difference? "Ask President Clinton,"

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