"Petit Con" is a right-wing satire that attacks leftism as just another bit of histrionics for a pouty adolescent. It's one long cheap shot, sometimes hilarious -- but as the shots get cheaper, the movie gets less fun. Do we really need more '60s-bashing?
"Petit Con," loosely translated, means "little jerk"; in the case of Michel (Bernard Brieux), the "little" is ironic, the "jerk" dead on. He's quite a grand con, actually, a torment to his parents (Caroline Cellier and the rivetingly handsome Guy Marchand) and a louse to his brother (Eric Carlos), a pompous prig and an intellectual fraud.
Michel spends his days obsessed with losing his virginity and gaining Marxist utopia, and for writer/director Gerard Lauzier, they're two halves of the same nut, figments of the same immaturity. Disgusted by his family's bourgeois affluence, Michel takes up with Salima (Souad Amidou), an Algerian seductress from the slums. They live together in the maid's room upstairs from his parents. Finally, he deserts his family altogether, going to live with aging ex-hippies in bohemian bliss.
Michel is an assiduous diary keeper, and much of the fun of "Petit Con" comes from the fatuities interred there, full of railing against "sheltered bourgeois life" and "French Pinochets," riddled with indigestible lumps of self-absorption: "Today I'm in one of my famous euphoric phases"; "What am I? A madman? A genius?" Michel epitomizes that familiar (and intolerable) adolescent personality type -- the kid who hates himself, but won't talk about anything else. Brieux, a dour sort with a fleshy face and a hippy, effeminate walk, captures this essence perfectly.
Lauzier has an acute feel for his character's inadequacies, but little warmth for him. He's so busy taking up the cudgel against the left that he never lets his movie breathe. The hippies turn out to be not only perverts, but incestomanes and rapists; the men Michel befriends try to seduce him, and the women betray him. His father, on the other hand, is a kind of saint. Lauzier doesn't just want to destroy Michel's illusions -- he wants to incinerate them.
And that, ultimately, is what's unsatisfying about "Petit Con." While it can be awfully funny in dissecting the romantic falderal of youth, there's no sense that the silliness of youth is somehow valuable. And it's hard to tell why it works up such a froth against the left, even in socialist France. Certainly, it doesn't play in America, where the same kind of naivete' has attached itself to the right, and where a kid like Michel would probably be drowned in a vat of beer at a frat house Reagan rally.
"Petit Con," opening today at the Inner Circle, is rated R and contains profanity, nudity and sexual situations.