Bertrand Blier's MENAGE is a gleefully amoral farce, with serious undertones, about an unhappy couple whose world is turned upside down when they meet a charismatic bisexual thief who takes over their lives.
At a dance club, Monique (Miou-Miou) berates and humiliates her meek husband Antoine (Michel Blanc). Along comes a large, handsome man (Gerard Depardieu) who slaps Monique and throws money at her to get her to shut up. Antoine takes offense, but Monique is fascinated by the man, who tells them his
name is Bob and that he can get a lot more money if they want to join him. The trio break into a fancy house and Bob rips up a carpet to reveal hidden cash.
They move in together and continue their crime spree. At one mansion they find gold bars in the attic; while robbing another house, the owner hears them and Monique goes into the bedroom to find the man holding a gun, but she jumps into bed with him and they start to make love while his wife
sleeps. While having wine and pate at another house, the jaded, rich owners come home and the husband says he won't call the police if Antoine and Bob have rough sex with the man's wife while he watches.
Bob constantly tries to get Antoine to sleep with him, but he always resists. Monique asks Bob to run away with him, but he tells her he's really in love with Antoine. Monique sleeps with Bob in order to seduce him, but it only makes Antoine tell Bob to decide which of them he wants. Eventually,
Antoine gives in to Bob's sexual desires and Bob decides to get rid of Monique by hiring a man to pretend he's a rich businessman who wants to take her away to Spain. She falls for the setup, but it turns out that the man is actually a pimp and she ends up working for him. Bob buys a wig, high
heels and lingerie for Antoine and convinces him to go out to a nightclub in drag. At the club, Antoine sees Monique turning tricks and he stabs her pimp when he starts to beat her. Monique responds by shooting Antoine, but only wounds him in the shoulder.
Four years later, Bob and Antoine are dressed as women, working as street-corner hookers with Monique. They go into a bar and discuss how tough times have gotten, and how their lives are a bad influence on Monique and Antoine's young son. Monique and Bob go back to the streets while Antoine puts
on more lipstick.
MENAGE begins as a frothy, albeit deliberately shocking, sex farce and ends up as a rather depressing rumination on the wages of sin, but offers enough excellent acting and outrageous situations in the customary Blier manner to keep one entertained. The original French title, TENUE DE SOIREE
(EVENING DRESS), is more indicative of the film's themes of transformation and masquerade than that of the American title, as illustrated in the scene where Bob convinces Antoine to get in drag by telling him, "It's just for going out," or when Antoine tells Monique that he's finally had sex with
Bob and she says, "It's no big deal to get fucked in the ass; the big deal is when you start to like it."
The basic love triangle premise resembles nothing so much as a perverted variation of Ernst Lubitsch's marvelous film of Noel Coward's DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933), spiced up with Blier's penchant for sexually explicit dialogue and deadpan treatment of the bizarre. Depardieu and Blanc are both superb
farceurs, and look hilarious in drag, but after the first hour, Blier isn't able to keep up the breathless pace and witty repartee, and by the end, he seems to have decided that these characters are not as fun as he thought, and that they're actually rather pathetic. As the trio sit in the bar in
the final scene and talk about the specter of new sexual diseases and parental responsibility, the whole tone is antithetical to the anti-bourgeois attitude that has permeated the entire film. The last shot is of Blanc looking directly into the camera and forcing a fake smile, as if Blier is
saying that he was just kidding. The irony is that the film is far more successful and enjoyable when it is reveling in being offensive than when it turns sentimental and earnest. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, extreme profanity.)
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