3 May 2011 | guy-bellinger
A modest but relevant insight into the France of the 1950s
A sequel to the highly successful "Papa, maman la bonne et moi" directed by Jean-Paul Le Chanois in 1954, "Papa, maman ma femme et moi, reuniting the same cast and crew, forms the second part of a diptych that is much better than its reputation. It is easy to see what attracted Jules Borkon, the producer, in the first place : the tremendously popular song/comedy sketch entitled "Papa, Maman, la bonne et moi" which, back in 1950, made a young emaciated comedian named Robert Lamoureux an instant star of the comic genre. The song part told in a good-natured way of the small worries of an ordinary French family but what made the act irresistible was that it was regularly interrupted by the singer himself, prone to making incendiary comments against his father. Indeed, according to Lamoureux, Dad's extreme clumsiness caused all kinds of havoc which the young man reported to the public in a hilarious mock-serious tone. "Well, Borkon appropriately said to himself, if the comedy sketch made audiences roar with laughter, why not transpose Lamoureux's crazy universe to the big screen and pocket big money?" So he did, but the move was more than just cynical. For, instead of entrusting the movie to some run of the mill director, he chose Jean-Paul Le Chanois, a socially committed filmmaker who felt closer to the man in the street than to the rich and powerful (the schoolmaster of "L'école buissonnière", the taxi driver of "Sans laisser d'adresse", the doctor of "Le cas du Docteur Laurent", the ex- convict Jean Valjean of "Les Misérables", ...). He also allowed two great writers, Marcel Aymé and Pierre Véry, to work with him on the script. And he did not surround Robert Lamoureux by second-rate stooges (as is often the case when one wants to promote a new name coming from outside the movie world) but by great talents like Fernand Ledoux, Gaby Morlay (more accustomed to drama than comedy) and many many others like Louis de Funès and Jean Tissier. Last good point but not the least, Le Chanois and his two prestigious co-writers decided to soft-pedal on the zaniness of the sketch part to emphasize instead the everyday life aspect of the song part. A sound choice indeed insofar as the two films of the diptych, and more particularly "Papa, maman, ma femme et moi", manage to capture the reality of what life was like in the France of the 1950s. The first half is in this regard a perfect little gem. Set in a modest Montmartre apartment both uniting and pitting one against the other two couples (retired teacher Fernand Ledoux & his translator wife Morlay) and their son (junior lawyer Lamoureux & his newlywed wife Courcel) - plus... two pairs of twins!, the movie presents itself as half sweet half sour chronicle of the life of average French people. A life made difficult in those post-war years on account of the housing crisis. Nothing tragic happens in this context, only a host of small worries, of exacting tensions, of repeated vexations which cannot but spoil family life to some extent. The two films struck a chord with the people of the time and arouse nostalgia in those who have known this period and see them today.
"Papa, maman, ma femme et moi" can actually be seen by viewers of any generation, provided they are adults and have kids. What makes such a modest comedy so timeless and universal is its being the perfect epitome of ALL the stages a couple goes through after the limited time of seduction and romance: the honeymoon, the euphoric return home, the kisses and embraces exchanged every minute, the first conflicts over minor details, a baby coming soon and the expenses going with it, the anxiety caused by this event and fed by well-meaning bad news bearers ("there's a baby born in the neighborhood with six fingers", the lot), the noisy babies, the rows about their education (to punish them or not? Should they be able to read before going to school or not, should babies eat meat or not?, etc.)
This first part, all made of funny light touches, is delightful, What a pity the authors do not follow this road till the end. Instead, they surprisingly sink into convention as Lamoureux finds himself on the verge of sentimental deceit and "Maman Morlay", following his example allows herself to be courted by... an explorer back from the North Pole! Just boring and bordering on ridiculous.
There are still a few amusing scenes though (such as the catastrophic building of Mr. Langlois' dream house) but the momentum is lost and what could have been a small masterpiece closes disappointingly, despite its initial qualities. It still remains that this popular comedy deserves to be seen for its excellent cast, its sociological value and its warm but no-nonsense tone.