The Moviegique trope re French Films is simple. You describe the film until you get to the perverted sex part, or since a lot of them start with perverted sex parts, you describe the film until the perverted sex reaches a peak (as it were) and say:
I know, right? French!
But there’s more to French movies than sexual perversion. There’s usually a lot of drinking and smoking, too. And ennui. A French film without ennui is like a Disney movie without a Uyghur slave camp. Theoretically, I mean. There may be some French movies without ennui.
But there’s French, and there’s French, and this may be the Frenchiest French film I’ve ever seen. It’s exactly what I was expecting (a pretentious, boring French film) and I liked it as much as I expected. (That is to say, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t actually see any reason to dig it up after 50 years and show it, either.)
The pluses are: Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin are beautiful, and the French have a unique and delightful appreciation for women that isn’t as cookie-cutter as (e.g.) the ones American producers seem to favor. There’s a big party with a bunch of other good, and different, looking, women as well. I can’t judge the male pulchritude, but I can confident in saying they’re very French, and the lead is quite fit to boot and shirtless most of the time. So if the Gallic thing is your cup of meat, chow down. Also, despite being 1969 high fashion, the look of the film actually works. Part of it is that the men are more conservatively dressed, on the whole, and another part is the beauty of the women. But costume deignser André Courrèges exercised tremendous taste, I think.
The minuses: Ennui, ennui, ennui. Slow-moving. Erotic for 1969 which set the audience tittering, and they were old enough to have seen it first run. Finding anyone to relate to or admire beyond their attractiveness? Challenging. Nihilistic? Not terribly over the top for the time, but undergirding the whole thing nonetheless.
If you know where you stand on French films during this awful, awful period, you don’t need me to tell you that this is one of those, and you’ll probably like it (or hate it) as much as any other. And if you don’t, this film’s as good as any other to calibrate your taste. So the rest of this is going to be spoilers.
Here’s how it all goes down: Not Diana Rigg and Not Karl Urban are holed away in a rich friend’s mansion, hanging out by the pool and aardvarking like teenagers about to get the axe in a horror film when Not Joe Biden shows up with his 18-year-old barely legal daughter, Not Taylor Swift. (Not Joe Biden doesn’t actually look anything like the putative President, but he does a lot of creepy smelling and touching, including of his daughter, so The Boy leaned in and said, “Who does this guy think he is? Joe Biden?” And it stuck in my head.) It’s instantly obvious to Not Diana Rigg and all but the dumbest audience members that Not Karl Urban is going to end up deflowering Not Taylor Swift, but it’s not going to be a short journey: This flick is over two hours long.
The points of interest here are that “our heroes” are libertine which, of course they are: It’s France and it’s 1969, but Not Karl Urban (who is at least a supreme jerk) has a hang up about an affair he believes Not Diana Rigg and Not Joe Biden had. He’s fine with all her other past lovers, but he and Not Joe Biden have some sort of rivalry which is never really explained, and comes to fruition unsurprisingly right about the time he deflowers Not Taylor Swift.
At that point, I suggested to The Boy the only thing that could make this Frencher is if Not Karl Urban killed himself.
He doesn’t, though. Instead, he murders Not Joe Biden.
After the funeral Not Stanley Tucci shows up—and I actually thought this would’ve been a delightful turn, making the movie about a French Columbo getting Not Karl Urban to confess—and plants the seed of suspicion in Not Diana Rigg’s head. This seed of suspicion is confirmed, and Not Diana Rigg gets Not Karl Urban to send Not Taylor Swift back to her mother, but lest we think she’s done this to secure Not Karl Urban romantically, she then decides to leave him.
But in the end, they stay together.
That’s awful, and I apologize for writing it that way. The high point for me was probably listening to the old people behind me. “This is French?” And after the murder. “This is awful.” and “Now what?” in reference to the pickle Not Karl Urban got himself into.
But as I say, there’s no excuse for disappointment. It’s exactly what you’d expect if you knew anything about cinema. Or the French. Or 1969.
Romy Schneider (as Not Diana Rigg) is lovely and sympathetic, which she always manages to be even when she’s being kind of bitchy. Alain Delon (as Not Karl Urban) and Maurice Ronet (as Not Joe Biden) struck me as fairly typical French jerks, but they had a good chemistry (even in their bad chemistry, if that makes sense). All three were real life friends, which makes the film unwatchable by Delon, who is the only survivor. But the filmmaking itself doesn’t carry this: It’s all on the actors.
Jane Birkin (as not Taylor Swift) pulls off a convincing just-18-year-old (she was 23) but that’s virtually the extent of her character. Her interaction with the rest of the cast is almost perfunctory. Makes sense, since they are old friends.
Not long ago, I read something about “film noir” (a term that went mainstream in the ’50s) and discovered they used to refer to “film noir” as “melodrama”! But the definition of “melodrama” is very broad: It’s characterized by intense emotions and even action, over characterization. Strictly speaking, Die Hard is melodrama. Lots and lots of films are melodrama. For example, anything with William Shatner.
I’ve been watching silent dramas for part III of my silent movie series (Part I, Part II) and they’re all melodramas. Post-war moviemaking went further and further away from melodrama till it hit this kind of stuff, which is practically anti-melodrama. Nobody cares about anything and even things that should be big, emotionally, are flat. (This is sometimes referred to as “realistic” by pretentious film critics who aren’t me.)
But if that sort of thing is in your wheelhouse, this is your movie. For me, it never really got beyond the eye candy.