Execrable: Je t’aime moi non plus

Je t’aime moi non plus (1976)
Written and directed by Serge Gainsbourg
Produced by Jacques-Eric Strauss, Claude Berri
Starring Joe Dallesandro, Jane Birkin, Hugues Quester, Nana Gainsbourg, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Gerard Depardieu
Ever the trailblazer, Gainsbourg baked cinema’s first great queer turkey years before that particular platter was served annually as Oscar bait. In a rural pseudo-America, the relationship of two strapping, gay garbagemen is disrupted when that twosome’s hunkier homo (Dallesandro) falls for a boyish gamine (Birkin) employed as the barmaid of a remote roadside cafe, to the chagrin and eventual, violent ire of his embattled boyfriend (Quester). Lest he deviate from wont, their transitory romance is consummated with shrieking sodomy, for which they’re ejected from several hotels. Trite (if not tame) by contemporary standards, Gainsbourg’s foul fiasco hasn’t much to recommend it save the considerable, concerted screen presence of its attractive stars. Alas, Quester is the only one among them who can actually act; the camera loves them both, but Little Joe is almost as stiffly unfit when dubbed as usual, and hasn’t any chemistry with the director’s scrawnily curveless mistress. Their adorable bull terrier Nana steals her every scene, mayhap because she’s spared any lines. As in all his pictures, some tackily gimmicky shots are sprinkled throughout elsewise technically sound direction, and ham-fisted symbolism abounds in most scenes, uttered often as daft dialogue verifying that Serge’s verbal verve was strictly lyric. Just as wearisome are his patently sham American trappings: a Mack truck, hamburgers, bluejeans and a rock band that performs during and after a horrific competition of dumpy ecdysiasts. Depardieu’s briefly squandered in the role of an addled equestrian, as is perennial nebbish Michel Blanc. Nearly a decade after its controversial release, voxless variants of Gainsbourg’s classic, celebrated, titular, trademark signature single serenade the leads as they kiss ineptly. Lingering shots of a dumpsite and a climax wherein Birkin and Dallesandro generate minimal erotic heat via anal intercourse in the bed of his garbage truck remind us what this movie is, and where it belongs.

Instead, watch Going Places.

Mediocre: Vatel

Vatel (2000)
Directed by Roland Joffé
Written by Jeanne Labrune, Tom Stoppard
Produced by Roland Joffé, Alain Goldman, Timothy Burrill, Catherine Morisse, Patrick Bordier
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, Tim Roth, Julian Glover, Julian Sands, Timothy Spall, Murray Lachlan Young, Hywel Bennett, Richard Griffiths, Arielle Dombasle, Marine Delterme, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Jérôme Pradon, Féodor Atkine, Nathalie Cerda, Emilie Ohana

“An aristocracy and a despotism differ but in name.”

–Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society

Among those extravaganzas conceived and organized at the behest of Prince Louis II de Bourbon-Condé (Glover) by his majordomo François Vatel (Depardieu) for a fete of three days in April of 1671 to the pleasure of a visitant King Louis XIV (Sands) and two-thousand attendees, most notable were: three regales comprehending plentitudes of savory and innovative delicacies; resplendently imaginative stages upon which renditions of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie sung by the prince’s wife, princess and chanteuse Claire-Clémence de Maillé-Brézé (Dombasle), and La Bourree, Colonna’s Absalom, and Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks accompanied by coruscating pyrotechnics are performed; intricately icy statuary in transience; the master chef’s suicide upon notification of his commission to serve the King in Versailles. Those famed feasts were likely of greater interest than this gorgeous yet turgid fictionalization, bloated for its stiltedly, excessively expositional dialogue treating of historic immediacies, improbably melodramatic royal intrigues, Joffé’s ham-fisted avian metaphors and a romance as silly as superfluously stale that bickers between Vatel and one fictive Anne de Montausier (Thurman). One needn’t agonize to ascertain what’s exquisite and excruciating here. Prandial pageantry victualed by Depardieu’s wonderworker are enough to satisfy even the most discriminating gastronomer, sets designed by Françoise Benoît-Fresco and Eric Viellerobe under the accomplished instruction of art directors Hervé Gallet Louise Marzaroli are ever more inventive, and Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle’s costumes are as much an eyeful, despite the anachronistically luxuriant liberties she indulged for the fabrication of certain dresses. Under their director’s limp baton, the cast yields mixed results…Depardieu and Glover acquit themselves adequately in spite of a prosaic script; typecast as a foppish fink after upstaging the leads of Rob Roy, Roth’s entertainingly hammy as a knavishly conniving Antoine Nompar de Caumont; Thurman and Sands seem to vie for the worst performance of both this picture and all others of its millennial year. Though Sands is the more accomplished in his field of atrocious acting, and dretching enough for his ludicrously wooden delivery, Thurman prevails for her gawky postures and insufferably stiff diction. They’re egregious, both far worse than Dombasle, who’s fine as an appurtenant player in many of Rohmer’s dramas, but struggles here to verbalize credibly in English. Similarly, the score may be Ennio Morricone’s worst — mincing, perfunctory pap that recommends how its audience should feel when viewing nearly every shot. Those most interesting scenes find Vatel plying a bricoleur’s ingenuity to compensate for shortages when preparing culinary and staged spectacles for the idle, deviant, hedonistic, mischievous royals of the belligerent Sun King’s court, as the despot contemplates le Grand Condé‘s fitness to lead his army against the brazen Dutch. Otherwise, the cliche conspiracies concocted by Labrune belie their refined trappings and sumptuous setting, Condé’s ritzy, restored Château de Chantilly and the stupendous stateliness of its luxe library and grand gardens in transition from the jardin à la française. Thurman’s pointless character overshadows the dynast’s fascinating and fecund mistresses — Louise de La Vallière (Ohana) is scarcely sighted, and Delterme’s fetching yet fleeting as Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart. Monsieur Duke of Orléans Philippe I (Young, nigh as daffy as Sands) and his minions destructively disport and pursue pederasty as his regal elder brother strains to defecate behind a screen while colloguing with Condé, whose serfs and servants suffer indignities and an unfortunate death while their tormentors repast and relish their spreads and entertainments. Joffé’s career was years into its decline when he consumed this picture’s promise, and while his contrast of these nobles’ abuse and debauchery with the helot’s hardship is as justified as artlessly blatant, his disregard for the actual accomplishments of its hero and malefactors is unforgivably philistine. Here, the misattribution of crème Chantilly to Vatel’s origination is perpetuated, his suicide provoked by an unlikely aversion to servitude; in reality, he was an exemplary maître d’hôtel of two Lucullan banquets who buckled under the pressure of the second and rashly took his life when he wrongly assumed that a consignment of fish wouldn’t arrive in sufficient time for the preparation of seafood. A comedy of his exploits and demise would’ve been more engaging and dignified (if not palatable), but so too would an impartial biopic concerning any of the historical figures misrepresented and derogated herein. Miramax distributed this Anglo-French production stateside, released concurrently and thematically parallel to their popular, preposterous Chocolat: yet another overproduced, Anglophone, cinematic calumniation of French history depicting it as a struggle between racist, sexist, classist, unjust Gallic society and its beauteous, talented, tyrannized latitudinarians — a class of pablum on which British and American hausfrauen and their fat daughters gorged themselves epulose, while Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and abused dozens of actresses on two continents. Those are the cattle for which this provender’s intended; sybarites and cineastes may enjoy the filigreed luxury of its production and art design, but beneath its surface, they’ll find only a scurrilous soap opera swilled to surburban swine.
Instead, watch The Madness of King George.

Sublime: Loulou

Loulou (1980)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Arlette Langmann, Maurice Pialat
Produced by Yves Gasser, Klaus Hellwig, Yves Peyrot
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Guy Marchand, Humbert Balsan, Gérald Garnier, Frédérique Cerbonnet, Christian Boucher, Bernard Tronczak, Jacqueline Dufranne
To a scruffy, eleemosynary loafer (Depardieu) for whom a secretary’s (Huppert) left her stodgily responsible employer (Marchand) of three secure years, she’s as much the amatorious world as he’s to her, but while true love’s the bond begirting them, their temerariousness redounds to misery. Pialat’s and Langmann’s sweethearts are so incandescently alive, endowed with their own pique and adoration, and perfectly, plausibly played by Huppert and Depardieu, as reliant as their characters on charms of nice gestures. Not so penetrating as but more autobiographic than their chef-d’oeuvre À nos amours, this precursory picture finds Pialat and Langmann as astutely aware of relational oddity, philia presented as an unfortunate catalyst for associative anguish, and in its transition subject not to clean abruption so much as dretching decrement in rebound and tragic error.
Recommended for a double feature paired with À nos amours.

Palatable: Police

Police (1985)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
Written by Catherine Breillat, Maurice Pialat, Sylvie Pialat, Jacques Fieschi
Produced by Emmanuel Schlumberger, Daniel Toscan du Plantier
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Sophie Marceau, Richard Anconina, Jonathan Leïna, Sandrine Bonnaire, Franck Karoui, Pascale Rocard, Jacques Mathou
Depardieu registers far more of his characteristic charm than brutish menace as a gregarious, obtrusive inspector who falls as hard as concrete for the coolly opportunistic girlfriend (Marceau) of a Tunisian narcotics smuggler (Leïna) plying a dicey, lucrative trade with his four brothers. With DP Luciano Tovoli, Pialat beautifully presents a photogenic cast from whom he elicits prime performances, especially his superstar leads and fresh, fledgling Bonnaire as a friendly fille de joie whose kindly temperament is apposed in contrast to the shrewd stratagems of Marceau’s uncaring layabout, or a personable criminal lawyer (Anconina) who mixes with flics and felons alike to exploit both with unexpectedly treacherous consequences. Breillat later explored similar characters and scenarios in Dirty Like an Angel to reveal vulnerability beneath the tough superfices of interrogation and procedure that excite lovesick and callous idiosyncrasies proceeding from privation, but this collaboration with Pialat also postulates that neither French police nor the Arab criminals they pursued during the Fifth Republic’s zenith were either as detestable or reasonable as most might expect.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Dirty Like an Angel.

Palatable: Fort Saganne

Fort Saganne (1984)
Directed by Alain Corneau
Written by Louis Gardel, Henri de Turenne, Alain Corneau
Produced by Samuel Bronston, Albina du Boisrouvray
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Philippe Noiret, Roger Dumas, Michel Duchaussoy, Sophie Marceau, Catherine Deneuve, Saïd Amadis, Jean-Louis Richard
Essentially the French answer to Lean’s Lawrence, this handsomely staged and shot enactment of Louis Gardel’s novel narrates the military ascent of a peasant Legionnaire (Depardieu) whose valorous feats in the Saharan front secure regional French imperium and his reputation as a prominent jefe. His personal life’s ironically more troublous: tragedy eventuates from a strained fraternity, and his affections are divided for a politician’s spoilt and sour daughter (Marceau) and an alluring journalist (Deneuve). Depardieu’s larger than life, exuding stoic heart and heroism as the dauntless officer, which is just as well: his is the only character who’s adequately defined. Corneau accurately conveys France’s prewar zeitgeist, but wastes his stars (especially Deneuve) by pretermitting most character development in favor of decidedly shallow relationships. Philippe Sarde’s typically fine score is also mawkishly overused in ably realized yet musically overheated combat scenes that can’t compare to those unforgettably silent, such as an Arab warrior’s (Amadis) grisly amputation, or a lovesick valediction where Depardieu and Deneuve communicate more with a few expressions than the totality of their discourse. Ultimately, Saganne‘s as unsatisfying as photogenic, but its conclusion’s so poignant and production’s so immersive that less discriminating or demanding aesthetes may not have cause to care.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Lawrence of Arabia.