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‘Ménage’ (R)

By Paul Attanasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 18, 1986

Bertrand Blier's "Me'nage" begins with spectacular high style. As wild dance music blares from a nightclub band, Antoine (Michel Blanc) and Monique (Miou-Miou), shot in momentous close-ups, argue about their poverty. More precisely: She attacks and he takes it.

Out of the smoky background emerges Bob (Ge'rard Depardieu), a swashbuckling giant in leather pants and billowy silk blouse, who smacks Monique to the floor, showers her with franc notes and tells the meek Antoine, "My one rule is: A man's gotta be respected."

What follows is a sex romp that grows progressively sour, but while it's romping, it's a howl.

The three go on a burglary spree. Monique falls in love with Bob. Bob falls in love with Antoine. Antoine falls in and out of love with both Monique and Bob.

Blier works out the permutations among the three (and between the three and outsiders) with a touch too much schematic rigor, but what brings "Me'nage" to life is the performances. Tiny and bald, with sad eyes and a silly moustache, Blanc is the unlikeliest of love objects, just as the brutish, swaggering Depardieu is the unlikeliest of tender lovers. And in a way, the oddity of the relationship goes a long way toward explaining it. Depardieu's eyes go liquid, his voice sweetens with honeyed love talk, and the pair play some of the most romantic moments of the year, no less romantic because they're between two men.

But these French -- they all want to be a moralistes. Blier shifts from seeing sex as a manifestation of love to portraying it as a commodity, something to be bought, sold, and stolen. As the movie darkens, it grows more obvious -- you feel Blier straining to come up with new situations, and relying on old standbys.

The change in tone involves some grinding of gears, as non sequitur storytelling and briskly edited farce slacken into moodiness and a routine kind of perversity. Having captured the attractiveness of the wild life, Blier wants to show you the wages of living recklessly. By the end, "Me'nage" acquires a nasty priggishness, as if Blier is slapping you for sharing the very enjoyment he created.

"Me'nage" is rated R and contains nudity, profanity, sexual situations and violence.

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