27 April 2016 | ElMaruecan82
Tells you the way economy works... and marriage doesn't...
It's fascinating how many hot topics converge in "The Spat", Claude Zidi's second film with Louis de Funès: you name them, full employment, economical crisis, ecology, politics, feminism, Japanese market, unions, and the hottest of them all, marriage. At least, if it doesn't break any particular ground on the field of comedy, it remarkably encapsulates the social, economical and political climate of France in the late 70's, under Giscard's presidency.
Of course, viewers' mindsets were different when they went to see the film in 1978, they wanted to watch Louis de Funès in his second role following his come-back in 1976 as a food critic in "Breast or Leg?" Due to declining health condition, De Funès had to restrain himself from his usual antics, grimaces and gesticulations so Coluche, the then-rising star of French comedy, shared the top-billing. Zidi stoke again with another role tailor-made for De Funès as Guillaume Daubray Lacaze a city Mayor and successful industry businessman (naturally a conservative), and again, another star carries the movie with him, French icon Annie Girardot as his wife Bernadette, an animal and nature-loving horticulturist. It's funny that these contradictory hobbies didn't lead to mutual incompatibility (while it does ruin many couples) but Guillaume isn't the savage type of businessman either.
Indeed, he's a former engineer and self-made man whose new little darling is a machine that can suck pollution smokes out the air. The film was made the same year than the infamous Amoco Cadiz disaster, where the pictures of seagulls trapped in the oil spill raised a public awareness about pollution. If such a machine existed, a man like Guillaume Daubray-Lacaze would be hailed as 'benefactor of our species', but oddly enough, he only finds the Japanese as investors, signing a contract for 3000 machines, which a few glasses of French liquor helped to conclude. De Funès plays the man in a way that doesn't seem to care about the machine's benefits, as if he wasn't aware of his own merit, as if he was an accidentally good person. Maybe that explains why Bernadette still endures him, she can see behind his mask. You know what they say about every great man.
Still, the pairing could have looked as ludicrous as the idea of Coluche could be De Funès' son, but here's why it works and the acting is naturally part of it. De Funès used to play strong leaders but easily manipulated by a woman, but although it's part of an act, the actor truly looks more fragile and weak, as if could finally assess his vulnerability in privacy, and Girardot adds a nice touch of benevolent tenderness and smart magnanimousness, she calls her husband's bluff, but out of love, she plays the game: give him medics, dress as a geisha to welcome the Japanese businessmen and defend her husband in front of his "rival", a doctor who shares the same ecological views and has an obvious fondness on Bernadette (as obvious as its lack of reciprocity). He's played by Julien Guiomar, who was the unforgettable Tricatel in "Breast or Leg?".
So, there's something genuinely touching in Bernadette's behavior, but we understand it's a ticking bomb, as long as he doesn't cross the limit and ends up destroying her own dreams
given the title, we know it's a matter of time before it happens. But there's a certain time to wait to get us to that titular spat, and it's a credit to Bernadette's patience. She can take the machines inside the house, then in the bedroom, even celebrates her anniversary between machines (and it's a funny sequence showing how machinery can be used for romantic purposes), she gives her piano lessons in her greenhouse, so we're still waiting for the breaking point. There comes a time when Guillaume needs more space to stock the produced machines and fails to convince the Prefect to obtain some extra acres in a public area, (no matter how hard he tried to blackmail him by wrecking his pool table, another funny moment) and this is where he finally crosses the line, by spilling oil all over Bernadette's garden.
Bernadette doesn't believe the accident, her heart broken by the Amoco Cadiz' remake in her little ecosystem, but she surprisingly gives Guillaume the benefit of the doubt. But Guillaume incarnates the boundless and unethical expansionist approach to economy, he needs more space, he freezes the tropical plant section, including his wife's fish tank, this is where the film should have went straight-away to the spat, but then she finds the weakness to come back to him. Basically, the break-up occurs at the two thirds of the film when it's already leaning toward resolution, so if anything, the title is misleading as it's only near the end that Bernadette decides to be a candidate against her husband. This is such a terrific premise, but the political campaign takes only ten minutes and the resolution is rather abrupt.
"Breast or Leg?" culminated with the visit in the factory where you could see the process of food-making, it was over-the-top but at least it daringly pushed the concept of the film. The factory within a house rapidly grew into a tiring gimmick while the antagonism should have picked up. Instead, the film loses its way and can only afford some good sight gags to break the monotony. What's left is still a remarkable satire about French economy and unconsciously visionary as 3 years later, the left won for the first time in French fifth Republic and flags like ecology and feminism were finally brandished, but it was nice while it lasted and two years later, the socialist government surrendered to liberalism.
To a certain extent, it echoes the film's ending, a funny and clever punch-line that says a lot about the way economy works
and marriages don't.