Dirty Dishes (1978)

R   |    |  Drama

Dirty Dishes (1978) Poster

Diary of a housewife, going mad. Armelle is nearly 30, with a husband and two sons. It's the early 80s in France, unemployment is high, and she's not worked (outside the home) since she was... See full summary »


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12 November 2010 | Bunuel1976
| DIRTY DISHES (Joyce Bunuel, 1978) **1/2
To begin with, it strikes me as very ironic that Joyce Bunuel's film-making career proved as sporadic (that is, she was mainly relegated to TV work) as that of her ex-husband's Juan (son of Spanish Surrealist master and my all-time favorite auteur Luis Bunuel)! That said, I followed this with two films she was only involved with as a screenwriter – the sleazy psycho-drama TATTOO (1981) and Louis Malle's surreal fantasy BLACK MOON (1975). Besides, I have two more on VHS (recorded off Italian TV) – the comedy ALL FIRED UP (1982) and the musical biopic DALIDA (2005; actually a TV mini-series which she also directed) – but, since my database of that particular format got 'wiped' in a recent computer crash and I have not had the time (or the inclination) to compile it afresh, I have had to forego their viewing for the time being…

Unsurprisingly, this debut was a deeply feminist work: consequently, Canadian leading lady Carole Laure dominates the film completely (not a very hard thing to do, given her classical beauty). For the record, I had only previously watched her in the Oscar-winning GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS (1978), but also own three other titles in which she appears – Dusan Makavejev's controversial SWEET MOVIE (1974), the Italian poliziottesco BLAZING MAGNUM (1976) and the French thriller THE THREAT (1977). Though I cannot say how close the film really is to (or whether it was influenced by) Frank Perry's Oscar-nominated drama DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE (1970) – which I do own but have only watched several years back on late-night Italian TV – its title seems to me to fit the Bunuel picture just as well (it would certainly have been more appealing and indicative as to what it was about than the bland one it eventually got stuck with!).

The film does not follow a plot per se – it is more a succession of scenes in the life of the central character, throughout which she practically runs the gamut of emotions; still, involving as it does a member of the Bunuel family, it cannot fail to contain moments of absurdity, violence, mystery, but also insight. Beginning with unprovoked harassment by a scurrilous road-hog on the heroine and her family, we later find her catching porn movies at the cinema with friends or making repeated needless visits to the coiffeur (only to subsequently 'erase' the result before her hubby gets home!); even at the supermarket, things are not clear-cut, as a scuffle between two male customers which she has the guts to interrupt turns out to be merely a candid publicity stunt!

Within her own environment, she dances to music (the film comes with its own pleasant theme song, heard over the end credits) or listens in to sex-advice programs (amusingly, the expert's voice belongs to none other than Jean-Claude Carriere, Luis Bunuel's own regular scriptwriting partner!). As for her career dreams, which she has had to suffocate to make way for conventional home-based security but still pursues from time to time, our heroine fares disastrously at both a secretarial position and a starlet promoting some new-fangled housewife-baiting product in a TV commercial.

Around her, then, we witness a neighboring couple's dissolving marriage (with one member leaving for good and the other attempting suicide), while another tenant of the apartment block – a young man she actually fancies – proves a selfish lout when, upon finally deciding to call on Laure, he proceeds to rape her there and then on the kitchen floor! The cracks in the woman's own domestic situation start showing when she leaves her husband's car behind, after almost causing a traffic accident, and running off in somebody else's abandoned vehicle. Later on, she serves a disgusting sludge as food for her kids…with the definitive climactic breakdown occurring in the condominium's basement (actually preceding that of Isabelle Adjani in POSSESSION [1981], though hardly in the same histrionic league).

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19 April 1978



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