The Ultimate French Movie
A sneak preview of next year’s blockbuster
First published in Paris Passion, 1988
In a rare show of unity, French filmmakers, screenwriters and movie stars have banded together to save their industry. Realizing that audiences now reject the yearly crop of low-budget, 40-year-old male fantasies that French cinema churns out so efficiently, cinéastes are pooling their resources, creative impulses and tired plot devices to produce just one film – a blockbuster – in 1989. This month the screenplay was released to the press in an unusual pre-production publicity move. Tentatively titled L’Amour, Etc., the film will star everybody.
Bridge. Exterior Night.
“Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw…” Sirens blaring, a police van careens over a bridge in a grimy suburb of Paris. Philippe Noiret is at the wheel. He gives a Gallic shrug, expels air through puckered lips, then says something absolutely incomprehensible. The credits roll.
Beach. Ile de Ré. Exterior Dusk.
Gérard Depardieu stands in the tall grass of a sand dune, gazing moodily out at a green maritime sunset. It’s obvious that he’s distraught; he runs his fingers through his hair and puts on his who-took-my-brain face. He squints at a passing seagull, then yells “Merde! Mer-duh!” on seeing a fishing boat.
Dining Room. Interior Day.
Someone is pouring wine into a glass. The camera pulls back and we see a bourgeois dining room with ten people sitting around a table. Close-up on food and flatware… Twenty minutes later, we switch to Depardieu choking on a fishbone. Beads of sweat form on his brow as he gurgles “Merde! Mer-duh!” while grabbing Fanny Ardant by the shoulderpads of her Chanel tailleur and shaking her silly. At the other end of the table, Valérie Kaprisky, Sophie Marceau and Sandrine Bonnaire become so alarmed that they hurriedly take off their tops and walk toward the camera. In the meantime, Jean-Paul Belmondo has raced through the room, pursued by Nazis.
Train Compartment. Interior Day.
Béatrice Dalle sits in a second-class compartment, furiously applying make-up to her one good eye. In walks Richard Bohringer, intent on punching her ticket, but succumbing instead to a fit of coolness. He untucks his shirt, lights a cigarette, sweats profusely, and lets three days of stubble grow on his chin. On seeing his ineptness, Dalle tries to smile, but there’s not enough room in the compartment.
Taxi. Interior Night.
Catherine Deneuve crosses her legs.
Parking Lot. Exterior Night.
Christophe Malavoy slaps Juliette Binoche. Tears well up in her eyes. She murmurs, “Je t’aime.” Ever the charmer, he walks away, his baggy pants rustling defiance. She pulls a gun, bites her lip and fires. “Je t’aime,” she whispers as she backs her car out over his body at a weird camera angle. We hear “hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw…” and fade to:
Village Square. Exterior Day.
A police van pulls up beside Yves Montand, who is playing a game of boules. Philippe Noiret gets out and fires off a few phrases in what sounds like Urdu. Montand’s face folds into a grin: He snatches his pitchfork, then slips on his jacket and a Provençal accent. They get into the van and drive away. From a window overlooking the square, Isabelle Adjani watches as several men kill each other over her.
Château. Exterior Day.
Christophe Lambert crosses his eyes.
Café. Interior Day.
Depardieu is wooing Marceau. He says, “Putain, salope, mer-duh!” She shoots back, “Don’t sweet-talk me, ox-face,” then looks imploringly at the waiter. Enraged as usual, Depardieu upsets the table, grabs the man by the lapels and starts shaking him. But it’s not a him, it’s Jane Birkin! Mercifully, we cut to…
Restaurant. Interior Evening.
… a fine Parisian restaurant, where Guy Marchand, Michel Piccoli and Michel Serrault are seated around a table, burping articulately.
Anywhere. Any Time.
Any nearly-dead American who was once famous 20 or 30 years ago walks past the camera and finds an excuse to say something in English. One of the principals answers in French and sends him on his way. The is called a co-production.
Paris Street. Exterior Dawn.
In the cold light of early morning, Richard Bohringer trudges despairingly down a street followed by the soundtrack. It starts to rain, but he doesn’t notice, his face a mixture of subdued rage and unspent passion. He passes Daniel Auteuil, Jean-Louis Trintignant and every other French film actor over the age of 30. They’re all wearing the same expression.
Bedroom. Interior Dawn.
The grey light of dawn floods through a window onto an unmade bed. Pauline Lafont goes to the mirror, her face a mixture of subdued passion and unspent rage. She glances at her watch: time to take off her clothes and begin wandering around the apartment. As she passes into the living room, she sees Maruschka Detmers, Julie Delpy and every other French film actress under the age of 30. They’re all not wearing the same thing.
Park. Exterior Day.
The men are in rough shape by now. Fortunately, they meet an old man who tells them about his peculiar and, preferably, grotesque hobby (e.g. eating model ships, carving cow tongues, collecting eyeballs). They understand his underlying message and take hope. They rush off to find their partners.
Living Room. Interior Day.
The women sit in significant silence, exchanging croissants and unspoken confidences. Finally, Jeanne Moreau enters the room and galvanizes them with a smile and a word of advice, “C’est comme ça.” They rush off to find their partners.
Street/Park/Sidewalk. Exterior Day.
Smacks, slurps and tears as the various couples are reunited. Each twosome gets into a car, turns on the windshield wipers and begins to talk, weep or make out like bandits. Philippe Noiret, the cop, appears on the scene and arrests them all.
Yacht. Exterior Day.
Noiret has decided to ship them all out of the country. Yet when he sees their hair being cinematically whipped about by a sharp Atlantic wind, he understands the futility of it all: Old clichés die hard. He scuttles the ship in anger. As the yacht slowly sinks, dolphins swim up from the big blue to have the last laugh. As the credits roll, we hear their cries of triumph. “Hee-hee, hee-hee, hee-hee…”