“The vice squad took my appetite away.”
In Le Sex Shop, Lucien’s small bookshop is failing. He can’t make ends meet and is facing bankruptcy. An acquaintance suggests that Lucien (Jean-Pierre Marielle) should convert the bookshop to an adult erotic paraphernalia shop. Soon business is booming. Lucien spends his days constantly barraged by gadgets and ‘adult toys’, and he begins to wonder if his marriage is stale. He starts trying to ‘spice’ things up–much to wife, Isabelle’s, dismay. Isabelle (Juliet Berto)becomes the guinea pig as Lucien tries one thing after another. Throw into this domestic scene–a kinky swinging, voyeuristic dentist, two disgruntled prostitutes, a naked book signing, and a cruise ship full of swingers, and the outcome is a very funny film.
A great deal of this film’s humour is based in the attitudes of the characters towards erotic matters. Lucien’s inept attempts to become a swinger are hilarious–Isabelle, chooses to not get upset about his demands, and her calm acceptance in the face of Lucien’s insistence that they’re ‘missing out’ underscores his discontent. Other amusing scenes include a practical analysis of some black leather bondage wear, and his & hers erotic reading. I particular loved the character of Karin, the shop assistant who looks like a schoolgirl with the face of a soiled angel. The film also has its serious moments, and those moments really contribute to this film’s substance.
On the down side–this very early Claude Berri (1972) film is dated. And horror of horrors, it’s dubbed. As the plot developed, I managed to ignore the dubbing for the most part, but it still detracted from my enjoyment overall.
“I’m a nobody.”
In the gritty French crime drama, Tchao Pantin, Lambert (Coluche), an overweight, morose, middle-aged man covers the night shift at a Parisian petrol station. This solitary existence–with just the occasional disturbance by a passing customer seems to be the perfect situation for Lambert. Inside the tiny shop, he silently and disinterestedly watches the world go by, and when customers impatiently complain, their insults don’t seem to touch him.
One night, Bensoussan, a young Arab (Richard Anconina) comes into the shop in order to evade the police. The incident leads to an odd, seemingly casual friendship. Bensoussan begins dropping in at night to visit, and while most people would be deterred by Lambert’s laconic style, Bensoussan doesn’t seem to notice. Over time, petty thief and street pusher Bensoussan reveals the more unpleasant facts of his existence, and Lambert begins to assume a vague, fatherly role. Just as these two wildly disparate individuals form some sort of bond, tragedy strikes. Lambert is shaken out of his twilight half-existence and embarks on a course of revenge.
Tchao Pantin is a solid entry in the French crime genre, and it works well–thanks partly to the casting of Coluche as Lambert, but also thanks to the talent of director Claude Berri. The film is set in the seamy underbelly of Paris–bleak landscapes of urban decay, gloomy nights and drizzling rain complement the story’s dark moodiness. Both Lambert and Bensoussan are disconnected individuals. Bensoussan is disconnected from society by his constant acts of crime. Lambert, on the other hand–has chosen to disconnect from his emotional pain, and while his body lumbers through life, he is so emotionally dull, he doesn’t recognize feelings until it’s too late. Fans of French crime drama–especially those with a taste for French noir–should enjoy this film. In French with English subtitles.
“It’s not like it’s for life.”
Middle-aged Parisian Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is recently divorced. The film begins with Jacques waking up in his apartment. The place is a mess–unwashed dishes, piles of clothing, and Jacques–even in his depressed state can’t stand it anymore. He sees an advertisement for a housecleaner, so he gets the number, calls and arranges an interview. A young girl, Laura (Emilie Dequenne) applies and confesses that she’s new at this, but Jacques doesn’t care, and he promptly employs Laura. The plan is that she’ll come one day a week while he’s at work, but soon Jacques arranges for more hours. Apparently, Laura has money problems, and tearfully confesses she has nowhere to live.
The Housekeeper charts the gradual shift in the relationship between Jacques and Laura. She appears docile and pliant, and she very quickly adapts to Jacques’ pickier requests regarding housework. She seems a little too good-to-be-true–especially when she makes statements about how much she loves to clean. It’s a tactic that works, however, and soon, she’s fully ingratiated into Jacques’ life, and it’s not too long before she’s sharing his bed.
The fun begins when Jacques takes Laura on holiday to Brittany. Previously, there have been a few signs of trouble in paradise. Jacques wants to listen to classical music, for example, and Laura’s music blares his out-of-existence. But the real troubles begin on holiday. Laura, who’s wheedled her way into Jacques’ life and is now working on conquering his heart, begins to show a different side of her character. A Hollywood film would center on the sensual, titillating delights of the older man-younger woman relationship. Director Claude Berri, however, chooses to concentrate on the subtle conflicts that leave our hero–Jacques–a much wiser man at the end of the film. The Housekeeper is a pleasant surprise, and its light funny romance turns into wry, amusing reality. Watch for director Catherine Breillat who appears in a small role as Jacques’ ex-wife Constance. In French with English subtitles.