"Femmes Fatales," double-billed with "going Places" this weekend only at the Key in George-town, is the missing link in the evolving satirical art of Bertrand Blier. Released in France in 1976, this uninhibited sex farce failed to duplicate the success of "Going Places," which preceded it, or "Get Out Your Hankerchiefs," which followed it.
The literally running gag of "Going Places" was the sight of the young punks played by Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere fleeing from the police or outraged citizens. In "Femmes Fatales" it's the sight of two ridiculous bourgeois misogynists, a gynecologist played by Jean-Pierre Marielle and a pimp played by Jean Rochefort, fleeing from women.
The movie begins in that wonderfully droll, offhand manner that Blier has adapted from Sacha Guitry, Luis Bunuel and Jean-Luc Godard. Discovered in his office, a discontented Marielle rebels at the prospect of examining one more sex organ. On the street he rudely brushes off a pregnant woman merely asking for directions. Rochefort, a passerby, flies to his defense when the woman expresses surprise. "Why can't you leave him alone?" he scolds. This chance encounter soon leads to a bosom friendship, since the men see eye to eye on the subject of impertinent, endlessly demanding modern women.
The men find temporary refuge in a peaceful village called Fiancey, where they become contentedly sloppy, indolent and gluttinous. Their bubble bursts when Marielle's wife and Rochefort's mistress track them down and demand their return pronto. In a superb exchange of comic monologues a pompous village priest played by Bernard Blier, the director's distinguished actor father, pleads with the women to let their mates remain in his sympathetic care and is set straight by the wife, played by Brigitte Fossey.
Back in Paris the men take to their heels again. They reunite in a subway tunnel after Marielle has fied from Fossey, now demanding erotic pleasure taat knows on bounds, and Rochefort has eluded gang rape in a train crowded with lustful women. At this juncture Bliers conception also begins expanding until it gets out of control. The protagonists join a mass movement of escaping males who are eventually defeated in a brief war of the sexes. Hunted down by a rapacious band of women militia, the fugitives are imprisoned in a sex clinic and forced to service hordes of women.
The increasingly screwy continuity doesn't survive the episode in the clinic. Blier polishes off his satirical prisoners of sex in an epilogue where they reappear as impotent, irritable old hermits. Taking off in primitive flying machines, they land in some tropical Land of the Giants and become stranded literally inside an Amazonian vagina, a denouement that requires one of the most blatant set designs in movie history.
Obviously, Blier is prepared to take sex comedy along paths that are rarely traveled in movies. His sexual candor and hyperbolic gags impose a humorous tone more reminiscent of American novelists like Henry Miller, Thomas Berger and Philip Roth. "Femmes Fatales" is often boldly funny. Moreover, it was probably a necessary transitional work between "Going Places" and "Get Out Your Hand-kerchiefs."