11 November 2002 | Leducdor
Gay redux in the '90's.
Gay comedies are a hard genre to master with any subtlety; one side of the fence is occupied by movies made to mock gays for 'straight' amusement, and the other side is to mock straights for 'gay' amusement. Right off the top, I'll say that I enjoyed this film. Not wildly, as 20+ years ago I enjoyed 'La Cage aux Folles,' yet nevertheless it was involving, good characterization, well-edited and paced. Yet, yet . . . . One of the hurdles for most viewers is that the film is deeply rooted in the French gay cultural scene. And if the viewer isn't familiar with that milieu, it will seem as if the film was set in the late '70s or '80s. Everything that the viewer knows or may have heard about gay life in the USA in those years seems very alive here. The point is, that IS the way Paris is, even now. While trend-setting on a variety of fronts, France has NEVER set the pace for gay culture, that honor belongs to the USA. Thus there is a soundtrack out of the Gloria Gaynor days (different songs, but reminiscent of 'Priscilla of the Desert,') and the large background cast of gay characters are reminiscent of times long gone on this side of the Atlantic. If the viewer can accept that '80s-style gay party life is still alive and well in Paris in 1996, then there won't be any jarring sense of "whoa - when was this film made?" The top-billed star is Patrick Timsit in the role of Adrien, the gay main character who loves Eva, longtime friend and owner of a gay establishment. He thinks of her as family, and even says so at one point in the movie. But the STAR of this film is Fanny Ardant (Eva), who easily steals every single scene she is in and not without reason. There is a rather flimsy opening setup about how all the characters meet - Adrien is negociating a deal with Alexandre, a banker, played by Richard Berry (sorry, Gtran, but he's the banker, not the client), and soon various wives, lovers, 'tricks' and others are all in on the act. For anyone not familiar with Ms. Ardant, she is an undiluted joy (go rent 'Ridicule,' now!). Ferociously handsome, wearing her emotions on her face (and her clothes quite well, too)while keeping her heart hidden, she engages the viewer as few actress do anymore (French actresses have a talent for that). I found Mr. Timsit arch and shrill at times, without the underlying tenderness and pathos that invested every moment of Michel Serrault's Zaza Napoli of 1978, but he suffices. Richard Berry does a fine job as a 'hetero' forced to open his horizons a bit while pursuing Eva. Michèle Laroque has the unenviable job of the 'clueless wife,' but her hesitancy and luminous beauty play very well here. Jacques Gamblin as Lemoine, Alexandre's aide, tries very hard to portray a man still caught in the 'it's hard to come out' milieu of Paris (which is, sadly, still true), but he lacks a certain "je ne sais quoi" to quite pull it off successfully; with time, he may very well become a great actor. There are a thousand and one jokes in this film that will only be understandable to francophones - and Parisian French is fast, clipped and very argotic (I can't speak about sub-titling, as I saw a VO [version originale], but I can imagine the inability to relay the sense of the original in subtitles). If you can speak French WELL, you'll laugh a lot. The nod to '90's/21st-century sensibilities about AIDS-awareness is last-minute and feels very false, thrown in as a sop. Rent the movie - it is a cult classic in France, for a variety of reasons. However, I will give you one more: as you watch this film, ponder the differences between American and French culture and consider why, in France of all places, homosexuality is still shameful.