Milou En Mai (1990)
Director: Louis Malle
Starring: Michel Piccoli, Miou-Miou, Michel Duchaussoy
Release date: January 24 (FRA). This replaces the unavailable Universal Laws. French… AGAIN! At least I’ve made it to the 90’s. I’ve copped a second Louis Malle film, therefore my approach was a cautious one after the animal slaughtering of Lacombe, Lucien. May contain crayfish finger-fishing and spoilers…
When Elisabeth Vieuzac (Paulette Dubost), the owner of a big old house, kicks le bucket, the extended family arrive for the funeral. Here they decide to divide up the estate, which includes selling the property. This last doesn’t go down too well with Milou, her son living there. But this is May, 1968 and France is gripped by civil unrest and strikes. The funeral is postponed (the grave diggers have downed shovels) and the gathering turns into a wake. As time passes, the family begin to discover more about each other and themselves… Nah, that’s wrong, they’re not on a voyage of discovery; they go a bit bananas, it’s a mirror, all their squabbles and moods, fear and celebrations are wrapped up in the woes of their country. What have I done to deserve another French farce? Preparez Vos Mouchoirs and now this. Nevertheless, I still managed to find one or two amusing moments and it didn’t have me reaching for the bottle of Zubrowka…
The whole thing revolves around the son, 60 year old Milou (Michel Piccoli). The house is his life, he’s lived there pretty much forever. He is 1968 France, resistant to change but knowing change is inevitable. He seems to take his mother’s death fairly well, goes about his business as normal, generally upbeat. Only when he’s alone in his room, his mind occupied only by the memory inducing quiet, do the cracks begin to show. In his grief, he hears a screech and looks toward the open window. A barn owl wings in and perches attentively on the ledge. It’s a sweet moment. Being a Malle film though, I was expecting Lucien Lacombe to emerge from a wardrobe and blow its head off with a shotgun. Milou kind of regresses after Elisabeth’s demise, reclaims his childhood. He storms away from a meal having thrown a ‘teenage’ tantrum. He even starts flirting…
Mind you, it’s one of those films where everyone starts chasing everybody else romantically. Okay, stay with me now, concentrate… So Camille (Miou-Miou), Milou’s daughter gets dropped off by her husband, Paul (Hubert Saint-Macary) who immediately drives off again and a lawyer, Daniel (Francois Berleand) arrives and Camille starts fluttering her eyelids at him. Then lesbian Claire (Dominique Blanc), Milou’s niece shows up with her girlfriend Marie (Rozenne Le Tallec). Later, one of the kids, Francoise (Jeanne Henry-Leclerc) goes to wake them up only to find Marie naked and tied to a bedpost. Later still, Marie starts making eyes at Pierre-Alain (Renaud Danner), Georges son which pisses off Claire who encourages Grimaldi (Bruno Cavette), Pierre’s lorry driving pal to fondle her juggs. Milou hooks onto Lily (Harriet Walter), Georges new English wife and she him, despite a suggestion Milou is familiar with the housekeeper, Adele (Martine Gautier). Georges (Michel Duchaussoy) is of course Milou’s brother… Phew! Got all that…? Oi, wake up!
Milou En Mai sounds like it shifts at breakneck pace; it doesn’t, everything drifts along in a stately manner. They keep in touch with the ‘rioting’ in Paris via a radio and the news seeps into the group, mellows them out in a way. They sit around eating a lot – it’s an eating game movie. Set up an expansive buffet for yourselves and every time a character digs into some scran, you have to dig in too. You’ll be a fat bunch of feckers by the end of the film – unless you’re a bunch of fat feckers already, in which case expect transfer to your local ER not by ambulance but via an overhead crane. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the house is a microcosm for what’s happening in France. I’ve probably got this wrong but I deciphered it thusly: DeGaulle has gone; read mother. Strikes and unrest; read family arriving to tip the house upside down. Free love in the streets; free love in the house. DeGaulle returns; mother does, kind of… Normality again. Except France has changed forever and so has Milou.
The actors are all good in the various roles, particularly Michel Piccoli. He does have one staggeringly creepy moment though, when Camille’s eldest daughter Francoise (she’s about 12) is leaning over for a better look at the croaked Elisabeth Vieuzac, Milou starts tilting his head, checking out her legs! He catches himself doing it but it’s like, you filthy perv!? My favourite character is the old groundsman Leonce (Marcel Baries). He must be about 80 and this gang set him to task digging a grave in the garden because they don’t know how long the strikes will last and Elisabeth has laid around the house for 3 days already and the weather is rather warm, know what I’m saying. Nobody helps Leonce with the spade work, they’re all too busy having picnics, eating, shagging, tit fondling, smoking weed… They saunter past the poor bugger at one point as if he doesn’t exist. He gets on with it, right into the night when Elisabeth ethereally appears to him as he shovels. Bizarre. He pauses, looks at her for a second and then carries on digging. The mad thing is, these idiots flee the house thinking the revolution is targeting the bourgeois… no one tells the old duffer, he must still be digging because he isn’t with them when they go.
There’s some crazy shit in here. The sing-a-long that turns into a dance-a-long led by Georges in a voodoo mask, they conga it around the dearly departed lying there in state, a marked change from the deference they have previously shown. In the same sequence, Claire latches on to a discussion about sex in public (they’re all at it in Paris, we’re told) and suggests they all put their names in a hat and draw a partner whereupon they will make love right there in front of everybody. As it is, only she and Grimaldi go for it (so maybe she’s not a total lezzer, just bi-cycle). Well, they don’t; she pops ‘em out, then the neighbours drop by to tell them (incorrectly) the Revolution is on its way to burn their playhouse down and shoot the owners. They go back to nature for awhile, hide out in a cave, cat fight… turn to cannibalism… Nah, they don’t do that, would’ve been ace though.
There’s a hint of melancholy threaded through Milou En Mai. Loss through change. The idyll is literally poisoned in the end, a landowner dumping his farming chemicals in a stream where Milou would frolic and catch crayfish with his bare hands. All the critters in the water die. That, more than selling the house tells Milou that life has moved on and so must he. Things will never be how they used to be.
I didn’t really enjoy or properly get my head around it. There’s some funny dialogue to smile at, even a couple of lapses into English. It’s beautifully shot, the colours of May are rich and on the soundtrack Stephane Grappelli does some top fiddling. Boy, could that lad fiddle…
This’ll give yooz an idea… http://tinyurl.com/d7eq4pd
I’m gonna give MEM 2 Groovy Grappellis out of 5.
ThereWolf, Mai 2012