Bertrand Blier's inimitable new sex comedy, "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," sustains a lyrical mood and leaves an afterglow of enchanted melancholy.
"Get Out Your Handkerchiefs" is an intuitive, allegorical flight of fancy from the same mind that conceived the satiric comedy of depravity, "Going Places." A refined meditation on the same themes of masculine romantic ignorance and folly, the movie confirms Blier as the most original and insidiously revealing humorist now expressing himself on the screen.
"Handkerchiefs,' opening today at the Outer Circle I, reunites Blier with Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, the amusing, magnetic young actors who became stars as the rapacious, oblivious delinquents of "Going Places." In the new film they no longer embody predatory, amoral young men. Their characters are domesticated, and even ridiculously proud of it.
For example, Depardieu's Raoul, who works as a driving instructor, boasts about how he expanded the drab little apartment he shares with his wife Solange by knocking down a wall or two. Dewaere's Stefan, a play-ground supervisor who fancies himself an intellectual, feels snugly, smugly content with his record and book collections and his gauche adoration of Mozart.
What remains constant in Blier's scheme of things is the fundamental obliviousness and ineffectuality of the comrades portrayed Depardieu and Dewwaere. Vicious schmucks in "Going Places," they become harmless schnooks in "get Out Your Handkerchiefs." The improvement in social status and respectability is not accompanied by enhanced understanding. Blier's buddies are still dopilu out of it, chagrined by their failure to make any headway but incapable of perceiving what their creator envisions as a cosmic joke on all masculine sexual longings, vanities and systems of selfesteem.
The story begins when Raoul, the most solicitous of hubbies, resolves to cure his wife's mysterious case of the blues by volunteering himself as a cuckold. Watching Solange (Carole Laure, a French-Canadian actress who bears a strong resemblance to Talia Shire) pick absentmindedly at her plate of sauerkraut in a restaurant, Raoul is overcome by his impotent sense of devotion. He vows to do anything to please the woman he loves and decides impulsively that greater love hath no man than to secure a fresh sexual partner for his despondent spouse.
He selects twerpy, bookish Stefan, a customer who happens to be in the restaurant at the same time. Initially offended, the innocent bystander soon allows himself to become the desperate husband's accomplice. "I'm not a possessive guy," Raoul confides. "I just want my wife to be happy. Bring back her smile and you'll be my pal."
Solange, who has remained withdrawn and mute during these preliminary displays of knuckleheaded solicitude, suddenly bursts into tears. "What did I say? What did I do?" Raoul pleads in perfect sincerity. "You men are all the same," an older woman scolds as she offers Solange a shoulder to cry on. "You never understand."
Precisely. The movie evolves by digressive, unexpected twists and turns into a visionary comic reverie on that eternally baffling masculine question, "What Do Women Really Want?" Blier doesn't pretend to speak for the woman, but he does transform a screwball manage a trois into a picaresque modern firy tale about the quest for sexual fulfillment. While Solange never articulates her feelings, her behavior is meant to be instinctively revealing. What it suggests -- again a basically masculine line of reasoning -- is that husbands and lovers are ultimately left out of the basic creative process, the perpetuation and improvement of the species.
Stefan doesn't revive Solange's drooping spirits any more than Raoul did. He doesn't succeed in impregnating her, either, after the men make up their minds that a child must be what she lacks. Inadvertently, Stefan brings her into contact with the male who does suceed in reaching her, and this Prince Charming turns out to be not another man but a precocious kid -- indeed, a 13-year-old reincarnation of Stefan's beloved Mozart.
The sexual brutishness of the characters in "Going Places" earned Blier a knee-jerk reputation as a male chauvinist of the vilest kind. His subsequent feature, "Calmos," retitled "Femmes Fatales" and considerably cut when it was acquired for American distribution, would no doubt have reinforced the reputation if it had gotten around. ("Femmes Fatales" will finally turn up in Washington for a few days in March on a bill with "Going Places" during the Key's French revival series.)
Nevertheless, Blier's misogynistic reputation is hilariously distorted. He may view women as exasperating, unfathomable or even insatiable sexual creatures. but the men are always the butts of the jokes in his comic universe. They see women through the distorting mirrors of sexual egotism, extravagantly idealizing them on one hand and degrading them on the other.
Blier crystalizes this confusion splendidly on several occasions in "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs." For example, there's a startling interlude in which Raoul strikes up a conversation with a barmaid while Solange and Stefan crawl in bed together for the first time in an upstaris hotel room. A cheerful, carnal extrovert, the barmaid sizes up her customer as a poor sweet slob at a glance and offers to make herself available. But her approach is so straightforward that it throws him. It's the antithtsis of Mysterious, Enigmatic Woman. Raoul would rather gaze in adoration at Solange as she sleeps and rhapsodize about her to Stefan: "Look at her! Like an angel. Isn't it our job to protect that marvelous, delicate machine?"
At one point a frustrated Stefan complains, "She doesn't listen to my records, she doesn't read my books; nothing excites her; all she does is knit and do housework." A terrible thought comes to him. "Is it possible she's just plain dumb?"
Raoul ponders that one for a moment and then rejects it out of hand. "Impossible," he declares. "Could a guy like me love a dumb bitch?" Whether they perceive women as sex objects or love objects, Blier's men are typically too self-centered to consider possibilities that might shatter their illusions or wound their pride.
They are outside the bedroom at the very moment that the boy genius, called Christian Beloeil, succeeds in awakening a sympathetic response in Solange, but they dismiss the idea of funny business. Chortling famous last words, Stefan says, "I know the little bastard's precocious, but let's not exaggerate."
"Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," like "Going Places" and "Femmes Fatales," pulls the rug out from under masculine self-importance all over again. This metaphysical sex farce implies that adult males occupy the most subordinate positions in nature's pecking order. But he yanks the rug rather gently this time, with a comic serenity reminiscent of the derachment Bunuel achieved only in his old age.
You can't blame the poor slobs for clinging to their illusions, Blier seems to say, because it's obvious that life conspires to play them for suckers.
At some time most men, even the happiest of husbands and fathers, must have felt the same twinges of frustration and inadequacy that Blier specializes in satirizing. It's a blow to realize that you may not really be the apple of destiny's eye, but there you are.
Sooner or later a female writer-director as provocative and lucid as Blier is bound to impose the comple mentary vision of sexual ambivalence on the screen.
Blier combines a tangy, exuberant literary flair weith an exceptionally clean, vivid pictorial sense. At their best his movies seem wonderfully fluent. Blier seems to be evolving an expository style that refines the elements Godard experimented with in the '60s, fusing storytelling and thinking our loud into a solid, attractive continuity.
Depardieu and Dewaere have achieved a comic rapport that's as pleasurable and impressive as Blier's stylistic assurance. These guys don't merely interact; they seem to share a telepathic sense of humor that permits them to do anything in funny unison or counterpoint, like The Ritz Brothers. Blier, Depardieu and Dewaere have taken the "buddy" film and "road" comedy way around the satiric bend. After only two outings their stooge act looms as a comedy classic, perhaps the definitive modern espression of foolish, uncomprehending masculinity.
To please Solange the pals help "liberate" the boy genius from his school and parents. Nabbed by the cops, Raoul and Stefan try to explain, "Actually the kid kidnaped us, and we're the victims." It's perfectly true, but they get sent up anyway. Having inadvertently brought fulfillment to Solange, they become expendable, saps at sea in a profoundly funny new sense of the term.