25 June 2008 | Bunuel1976
MR. FREEDOM (William Klein, 1969) **1/2
I have always been intrigued by a still of the entrancing Delphine Seyrig in a majorette outfit gracing the cover of one of my favorite issues of the British film magazine “The Movie” – which, among others, discussed in detail such films as Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’ AVVENTURA (1960), Alain Resnais’ LAST YEAR IN MARIENDBAD (1961), Chris Marker’s LA JETEE' (1962) and John Frankenheimer’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962); on closer inspection, I found out that the film in question was one I was unaware of and, under the circumstances, I took to be an ordinary potboiler. Several years later, I learned on the Internet that both MR. FREEDOM and its director’s preceding film, WHO ARE YOU, POLLY MAGGOO? (1966) had been released on DVD in France (appropriately enough) and, frankly I have been toying with the idea of picking them up ever since – despite their prohibitive price ($30 apiece). Luckily, I held firm and, a couple of years later, Criterion’s more adventurous sister label Eclipse sprung the 3-Disc “The Delirious Fictions of William Klein” set – consisting of these two films and the later THE MODEL COUPLE (1977) – on a largely unsuspecting public. Once again, my interest was intensely aroused by the prospect of owning these enticing movies but, perhaps thankfully, their release came at a very low ebb in my DVD collecting hobby which, due to family problems and time constraints, has sensibly made me cut down on my reckless online purchasing! Still, as a local saying goes, what doesn’t enter from the door, gets in through the window – and so it is that I have managed to score these three William Klein films via DivX torrents which, however, I then still had to convert to DVD-R given the fickle nature of imported English subtitles!
Despite its 2004 inclusion among eminent critic Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “1000 Essential Films” and the fact that I was fully expecting to really love this one (given its comic-strip leanings), regrettably I have to admit that MR. FREEDOM proved to be a case of a long wait for a certain title not being totally repaid on realization. Like William Cameron Mezies before him and anticipating Robert Fuest, William Klein was himself a writer-director-production designer whose unusual combination of talents likewise (and understandably so) gravitated him towards the fantasy genre when dabbling in movies. Anonymous actor John Abbey, then, is the arrogant all-American hero – the sometime Stetson-hat-wearing/sometime rugby-player-attired Mr. Freedom – and his pompous characteristics instantly reminded me of Eddie Constantine’s Lemmy Caution characterization in Jean-Luc Godard’s ALPHAVILLE (1965) – a film with which it shares not only the satirizing of pulp fiction heroes but, by extension, American intervention in foreign countries. Indeed, MR. FREEDOM can perhaps best be described as a wildly uneven and wholly unholy satirical blend of French Nouvelle Vague sensibilities, Pop-art kitsch and comic-strip campiness.
Getting back to Delphine Seyrig, she has arguably never looked sexier than she does here – sporting a frizzy-haired red wig and that seemingly clashing cheerleader costume, she plays Mr. Freedom’s main associate ‘over there’: French agent Marie-Madeleine; also on their side is Abbey’s employer Dr. Freedom who, played by Donald Pleasence, only appears to him in intermittent TV communiqués. On the other hand, the villains are more opaque if not a little eccentric in themselves: Philippe Noiret is the inflated, cap-wearing Moujik-Man and then there is the dragon-like, life-size puppet Red Chinaman! The film also features some notable (and notably irreverent) cameos: Yves Montand as the deceased French superhero, Capitaine Formidable, Serge Gainsbourg as a Mr. Freedom acolyte (he also composed the film’s playful score) and Sami Frey as Jesus Christ!! For the record, both Noiret and Frey had both already appeared in Klein’s WHO ARE YOU, POLLY MAGGOO?
Ultimately, you have to hand it to Eclipse for bravely going ahead with releasing on DVD – and, technically, for exclusive American consumption – this “most anti-American of anti-American films” during a period when anti-Bush/anti-Iraq War fervor is at its highest. But, then, isn’t the then-current anti-Vietnam War/anti-consumerist credo splattered all over the colorfully chaotic canvas of MR. FREEDOM?