First posted on Saturday, June 21, 2003
DO WE HAVE TO REFER TO IT AS THE “FREEDOM NEW WAVE?”
What with both President Bush and Woody Allen saying it’s time to make up with the French, I’ve decided to try and do my part in mending Franco-American relations. Here’s my review of a very good movie, Diabolique, an interesting film noir made in France before the aesthetics of Nouvelle Vogue shook the industry.
Written and Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Based on the novel Diaboliques by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
It’s about a very rude and obnoxious headmaster of a boarding school whose wife and mistress plot to kill him. At first, it’s odd seeing the wife and mistress in cahoots, but then again they are European women. Maybe I’ve seen too much Jerry Springer, as if that's possible, but wives and mistresses getting along isn’t the kind of thing that’s acceptable here in America. At least that’s what my wife keeps telling me.
The black and white photography looks wonderful. And the plot is very suspenseful as the events unfold. Unfortunately, that’s all I can really say because at the end of Diabolique, a title card appears asking the viewer not to reveal anything about the movie to anyone else, so I will honor their request. I can tell you it is a wonderful thriller where everything is not as it appears, so pay attention. If you’re going to watch it on DVD, get the Criterion Collection version.
I haven’t seen the American remake with Sharon Stone, so I don’t how it compares. If I were to bet on it, I’d have to guess “not as good.”
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978)
Directed by Edouard Molinaro
Written by Marcello Danon, Edouard Molinaro and Francis Veber
Based on the play La Cage Aux Folles by Jean Poiret
Here’s another French import that was Americanized on the silver screen as The Birdcage (1996), which I haven’t seen either. La Cage Aux Folles is a funny farce about families meeting before a marriage; the father of the bride-to-be is a high-ranking member of a right wing conservative party and the father of the groom-to-be runs a gay nightclub and has a live-in boyfriend who is the star of the nightclub’s show as a female impersonator.
The film starts with our meeting Renato the owner of the La Cage Aux Folles nightclub. Albin, Renato’s lover and the show’s main act, is having yet another hysterical tantrum and refuses to go on stage. Part of the reason for the tantrum is because Albin suspects Renato of cheating on him. Renato assures him that this isn’t happening and Albin goes onstage. We then see Renato prepare for a special rendezvous. It turns out to be his son, Laurent, with news of his up-coming wedding. He wants the parents to meet but in a twist of the Three’s Company motif, Laurent’s dad has to pretend he’s straight. This also means redecorating their home and figuring out what to do with Albin. It is decided that he will try to act masculine.
Life for Simon Charrier, Louise’s father, becomes difficult when the leading member of his party is found dead in the bed of an underage prostitute. See Americans and French are a lot more alike than some jingoistic windbags would care to admit. It’s also interesting to see that no matter what country right-wingers are from they’re really hypocritical louts always railing against the stuff they secretly like. Of course, this evidence isn’t very scientific, but when it comes to politics, whoever let the facts get in the way.
Obviously, this isn’t a good time for Louise to tell her father that her future father-in-law is a homosexual nightclub owner, so when her parents are grilling her, she lies saying Renato’s involved as a government attaché dealing in art. The parents are now pleased to go meet this man, and as a bonus it gives them a chance to escape the press and paparazzi that are hounding them. Unbeknownst to them, the chauffeur is bribed and tells the press where they are going.
The families are enjoying each other, but the evening spins out of control when Albin, in a very funny scene, pretends to be Laurent’s mother. When Laurent’s real mother shows up, the truth comes out. Before the Charriers can leave, they discover the press are waiting and have blocked the exit to the house so the Charriers can now only leave through the nightclub. I won’t give away the end, but if you have seen an episode of I Love Lucy, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to figure out their plan.
Although the movie is basically a sitcom, it is a funny story and the actors all do a great job. A couple of the characters are “flaming fag” stereotypes, but the more time that is spent with them, the more fleshed out the characters become. Not completely, but enough that they aren’t completely offensive. Plenty of laughs to go around.
Now do your part and show your frères et soeurs that we don’t hold a grudge by renting these films. Okay, maybe George W. wouldn’t be happy with the choices since they deal with infidelity, murder and homosexuality, but the Log Cabin Republicans should be okay with at least one of them. Viva La France!