Louis Malle's latest film, MAY FOOLS, is a radical, comic departure from the somber intensity of his last, AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS. Would that it were as successful and moving a work as AU REVOIR (or his ATLANTIC CITY; LACOMBE LUCIEN; or even MY DINNER WITH ANDRE), but, unfortunately, MAY
FOOLS is cloying and precious in the annoying way that French films (and some people) have when convinced too mightily of their own charm.
The action is set in May 1968, at the time of the student uprisings in Paris. Mme. Vieuzac (Paulette Dubost), the feisty matriarch of an aristocratic family, suddenly dies of a heart attack, provoking the one good line in the film, "Death must have surprised her; she was a planner." The family,
which gathers from all over France for her funeral, includes her sons, Milou (Michel Piccoli) and Georges (Michel Duchaussoy); Milou's daughter, Camille (Miou-Miou); her neglectful husband and three children; and Claire (Dominique Blanc), an orphaned lesbian granddaughter. Meals are shared,
property is squabbled over, ancient resentments are voiced, and unlikely romance blooms while the radio proclaims the latest unsettling news from Paris. As the student unrest reaches a boiling point, the family decides to flee to the hills, fearing an encore of the bloody revolution in which
aristocrats paid for their wealth with their lives. Roughing it brings out the best and the worst in the family; then a faintly enigmatic closing shot ties things up neatly.
Malle and his frighteningly prolific cowriter, Jean-Claude Carriere, seem to be attempting a repeat of Jean Renoir's superb RULES OF THE GAME, with the frivolous antics of the landed gentry juxtaposed against the backdrop of world-shaking events. This is pointed up by the presence of Dubost, who
played the maid in Renoir's film and remains a disarming beauty. However, with its cartoonish characters, improbable plot developments, and general air of empty-headedness, MAY FOOLS seems more akin to the fluffy inconsequentiality of COUSIN COUSINE or Woody Allen's various odes to WASP family
order. Malle has already worked dry the familiar territory of his own aristocratic upbringing (in parts of AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS and in the overrated MURMUR OF THE HEART). And there's an unseemly complacency about his nostalgia-tinged treatment of the privileged; not one of his blueblooded
characters displays the wit, personality, or charm to justify this beneficence. Georges is a pompous international journalist, who drops supposedly uproarious English phrases into his conversation. His British wife, Lily (Harriet Walter), is a hippie sometime-actress, with a caftan and reefer
always within easy reach. Naturally, she is also an advocate of free love, and stages a family orgy that proves distressingly dull for both the participants and the audience (a shoddy excuse to throw a little naughty T&A into the "family entertainment" that leaves the viewer feeling humiliated for
the exposed actresses.) Adele (Martine Gautier), the maid, is a typically idealized servant, whose easy virtue accommodates Milou's needs and is eventually rewarded in Mme. Vieuzac's will (quel surprise).
Malle is at his most ham-handed with the character of Claire. A physical and emotional cripple, she stalks about with mournful cow-eyes and downturned mouth like a Gothic caricature of a grieving Jeanne Moreau. She despised her grandmother for forcing her to practice the piano, and proves this by
thundering the keys with angst befitting a soapy Warners diva of the 40s. Claire blooms, however, under the practiced touch of a virile truck driver. Earlier, Malle has Camille's darling imp of a daughter (Jeanne Herry-Leclerc) discover Claire's lesbian lover, Marie-Laure (Rozenn Le Tallec), in
bed, nude and bound to the bedpost--even kinky sex is deodorized and made cute here. Marie-Laure herself takes up with one of those obnoxiously gabby young radicals no film like this can afford to be without. For good measure, there are also a darling pair of twin boys and a lovable cat. The
viewer's patience, already wearing thin, gives out, finally and completely, with the whole hoary back-to-nature episode, which is both unbelievable and unfunny.
Apart from Dubost, the two players who manage to occasionally transcend the film's banality are Piccoli and Miou-Miou. He has a rich, handsome presence as a Mama's boy who can't let go of the past and who pursues every fleshly pleasure available to him. The best scene in the film takes place with
Piccoli's Milou in bed, suddenly giving in to his grief when a white owl with an alarmingly human face flies into the room. (The shot of him peeping up his granddaughter's pinafore could have been eliminated, though.) Miou-Miou, a marvelous comedienne, again displays her elegantly impressive
range, portraying the epitome of haut-bourgeois avariciousness, forever preparing perfect meals, with occasional breaks to raid Grandma's jewelry box.
MAY FOOLS is visually undistinguished in a generically handsome way, and Stephane Grappelli has provided some original muzak that adds further gloss to the winsomeness. (Nudity, adult situations, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: Louis Malle's latest film, MAY FOOLS, is a radical, comic departure from the somber intensity of his last, AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS. Would that it were as successful and moving a work as AU REVOIR (or his ATLANTIC CITY; LACOMBE LUCIEN; or even MY DINNER WITH… (more)