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'Menage' (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 14, 1986

Meat-and-potatoes misogynist Bertrand Blier, whose heroes have traditionally shared their women -- the better to get closer to each other -- at long last comes full circle. With his sexual circus "Menage," Blier's boys come out of the closet, wipe their feet on the heroine (n'est-ce pas?), then try on her clothes.

If you can overlook Blier's guttermouth, you might even find the chauvinist has developed some small empathy for females in this mad meditation on gender politics, which star Gerard Depardieu describes as " 'Going Places' in the year 2000."

"Menage" concerns a triangle of lovers sampling their sexual options, from hetero to homo to trans to bi and beyond. It's a fractious, free-wheeling, uninhibited critique of erotic anarchy, with Blier as a reckless cartoonist who has sketched a perversely funny lampoon.

Depardieu and Miou-Miou, who costarred in Blier's "Going Places," join Michel Blanc as bizarre bedfellows in this tale of sex du jour. Blanc was named best actor at Cannes for his role as the nebbish husband Antoine, seduced by the brutish burglar, Bob. But it is Depardieu who is unforgettable as Antoine's aggressive suitor, a Neanderthal in tiger-striped undies, with a Spanish galleon tattoo on his chest. "I wait, quivering," he thunders sweetly, inviting Antoine under the sheets.

Blanc, as the tiny, twitchy Antoine, and the hulking Depardieu completely revamp our notions of odd couples. There's nothing condescending in this portrayal. And Miou-Miou, as Antoine's shrewish wife Monique, is brittle but bruises easily, winning our sympathy as surely as our contempt. At her insistence, the men become lovers; the woman becomes a prostitute (French women have so few career options), and voilą -- you've got yourself a romp.

Blier does whatever he pleases without compunction, dismissing a character here, a situation there, like a little boy playing with his action dolls. It's free, frank, infinitely flexible. Blier takes current trends to the limit, creating social sci-fi -- like Kurt Vonnegut, but with crossdressers. Who wears the pants in Blier's family of man? Nobody.

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