Preparez Vos Mouchoirs (1978)
Director: Bertrand Blier
Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Carole Laure, Patrick Dewaere
Release date: January 11 (FRA). Nowt down for this year, I had to track back early in the month to find something usable. Can’t say I’m surprised to see more subtitles. May contain paedophilia and spoilers…
And when I say ‘spoiler’ I’m just going to lay the whole thing out so be warned. And when I say ‘paedophilia’ I mean… merde, these fucking French, I’ll just start scribbling and hope for the best… A gentleman, exasperated by his wife’s listless and apathetic demeanour toward all things, knitting excepted, finds her a lover – o-boy – in the hope of bringing happiness back into her life – o-boy, o-boy. However, this doesn’t work either and the two blokes make it their mission to put the “smile” back on her face. They won’t; under-age boy, anyone?
It’s French. It’s a farce. It won an ‘Oscar’ for Best Foreign Language film. The idea of a film such as this winning an ‘Oscar’ today would be unthinkable given the subject matter. I don’t know why it was thinkable in 1978, to be honest. I’m not having a go at Preparez’s technical merits here, it is shot and acted, largely, very well. Even the first half I can shrug off, a typically absurd ménage a trois from a forward Frenchman. Director Bertrand Blier, wastes no time in the first scene, Raoul (Gerard Depardieu) immediately hands Solange (Carole Laure) over to a complete stranger in a restaurant. Stephane (Patrick Dewaere) is initially reticent but considering she ain’t too shabby he gives her a go. However, Solange is as interested in him as she is in Raoul. So, they share her, take it in turns to, erm, pleasure her. Sometimes they hilariously forget whose turn it is. But it’s irrelevant; she doesn’t give a stuff. Back to the drawing board, lads.
These two idiots can’t work her out. She is prone to bursting into tears and suddenly collapsing. Doctors can’t find anything wrong with her; conclusion, psychological. Stephane even suggests she might be clinically stupid (takes one to know one). The general consensus is she just needs to get pregnant and she’ll be right. Raoul and Stephane orbit around Solange like they’re looking under a car bonnet, checking out a dodgy carburettor or something. She sits passively under their scrutiny, knitting away. The boys enlist the help of a neighbour (Michel Serrault) who likewise can’t get a handle on her beyond ‘give her a baby’. I like the introduction of Serrault. Those cretins are in the flat playing music, Mozart. Raoul goes off on a mad ‘un, a story about Mozart reincarnated and following the sound of his music along the street to their gaff, coming up the stairs to the door. At which point there’s a knock and the boys do a comical double-take. They open the door expectantly, but it’s Serrault who just wants the music turned off so he can get some sleep. “Fuck Mozart!” Deft. This leads to a passage of dialogue that made me laugh out loud. He wants to know why Solange is so miserable…
“It’s because she can’t bear children.” He is told.
“Why? What do they do to her?”
By now I’m thinking, ‘going nowhere fast, this’. The message seems to be: men don’t understand women. Wow, hold the front page. Maybe it’s just Blier proudly announcing he doesn’t understand women. Anyway, here’s where we get morally dubious. Stephane is a phys-ed instructor for disadvantaged or troublesome kids. He and Raoul hit on the notion of dragging Solange along on a trip to the country with his charges, mainly to keep the kids from lobbing food at each other. One of them, 13 year old Christian Beloeil (Riton Liebman – who was 14 when he made this) is the butt of the other kids’ cake-chucking pranks because he’s a poor little rich boy with a high IQ. Wouldn’t you know it, his superior intellect ridicules the two blokes and makes Solange laugh for the first time in the film. Result! The end! If only…
Solange takes pity on Chris, I guess he brings out the maternal instinct in her. She understands his sadness, loneliness, the fact that his parents don’t understand him… Feeling protective and to keep him out of harm’s way (the other kids want to shoe polish his knob) Solange allows Chris to share her bed. Take that look off yer faces, it’s nothing funny, it’s only like what Michael Jackson was doing with kids, which is apparently perfectly normal and to be applauded. They chat, she falls asleep. Pervy Chris decides this might be an opportune time to have a look under her nightdress. She wakes up, correctly brands him a little “monster” and tells him to do one. Chris then spins her a load of old hogwash (he actually sounds more adult than the adults here) that not only wins her over, but impels Solange to take off her nightdress to reveal her full glory. Frankly, it was a great relief when the scene cut to outside the room, to Raoul and Stephane looking quite pleased with themselves because they can hear “rubbing”…
Of course it all goes Curly Wurly-shaped because Chris refuses to go home to his parents; “Why won’t he come home with us?” And Raoul’s response is; “Because you’re idiots.” Pot. Kettle. Mr & Mrs Beloeil (Jean Rougerie – he was in Lacombe, Lucien and Eleonore Hirt) pack Chris off to a secret boarding school and once more Solange becomes moody and withdrawn. However, Serrault (he hasn’t got a character name) scams Mrs Beloeil and learns the location of her son. Raoul, Stephane and Solange then hatch a plan to snatch him. At the school, we see Chris is as calculating as ever; day and night, to avoid being bullied he tells the other kids about his sexual exploits with Solange – not so much tell, they demand to know. It’s well observed, as they fire questions at him; “Is it hairy inside?” One lad calls bullshit; naturally this is the moment Solange arrives to ‘rescue’ Chris and snogs his face off in front of the other dumbstruck pesky kids.
It’s very nearly offensive. The fact that Preparez is so far over the line of farce and Morris dancing gaily in the realm of Gallic crackers just about saves it from squelching around in a paedo’s paradise. The film concludes with Raoul and Stephane released from a 6-month prison stretch (for kidnapping) and seemingly content with their newfound friendship. Solange has moved into the Beloeil family home as a housekeeper. Mrs is missing (presumed run off with Serrault) and Mr Beloeil is in a wheelchair with an unspecified wasting condition. Solange is pregnant by Chris. That’s what I said, yes; she’s pregnant – by Chris. What’s interesting about the dénouement is she doesn’t seem any happier for being with-child, not to me anyway. There’s one really good running gag; as a consequence of Solange’s constant knitting I think everyone ends up in a jumper at some point, including Chris’s cabbage dad.
So, yeh, though one should be morally affronted by a 20-something woman nailing a minor AND getting pregnant by him AND moving in with him… it’s rendered preposterous. Nevertheless, I’m fairly sure this kind of thing is illegal in most countries. Tell you what, let’s reverse genders in the film and approach the Academy again with our prospective Oscar winner… Oh, is that a lynch mob I see thundering toward us? The BBFC passed an already cut version of Preparez Vos Mouchoirs (which approximately means ‘Get Your Handkerchiefs Out’ – and I doubt it’s to blow yer conk with) with a ‘15’ certificate. I’m amazed by that. I presume, in the BBFC’s bifocals, the presence of a comedic tone somehow dilutes the kink-factor. Listen, I consider myself broad-minded, right, but even I was getting mighty uncomfortable, even when the kid was looking under her dress never mind Solange dropping her linen for him. Of course all of this leads to a whole other debate whereby I’m disgusted by the under-age fiddling yet blithely disregard a ‘loving’ hubby passing his troubled young wife to a stranger for sex to solve her perceived problems. At least Chris gives her what she wants. Whose morals are wrapped around a toilet u-bend? Blier’s or mine?
I wasn’t impressed. It’s left me faintly queasy. Depardieu and Dewaere are both good in their roles; it’s impossible to tell whether Laure is a decent actress on this performance; she’d make a great zombie. At least she’s not shy when it comes to nude scenes. Liebman is wholly unremarkable, but to be fair I don’t think his character is meant to be noteworthy. Lucky twat.
It gets 2 Piss-Pot Platinis out of 5.
ThereWolf, March 2012.