By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated March 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Two’s a trend in older woman-younger man French romances: On the heels of Brigitte Rouan’s emotionally operatic Post Coitum, director Benoit Jacquot, adapting a novel by Yukio Mishima, observes the passions of a sophisticated fashion executive (Isabelle Huppert, the Gallic ideal of formidable coolness sheathing a core of erotic heat). She’s obsessed with a baleful stud and sometime boxer (newcomer Vincent Martinez) who, when he is not paid by women for sex, is paid by men. Still, the two arouse something other than business in each other; he sticks around voluntarily, she rather enjoys the role of sugar mommy — until she doesn’t. With the exceptional understanding of feminine psychology he brought to A Single Girl and Seventh Heaven, Jacquot economically conveys the small, painful sacrifices both lovers — but particularly the woman — must make, and the constant, ongoing negotiations of power required to maintain no-strings freedom. (That’s where the sentimental education comes in.) B+