In the early minutes of Welcome to New York, Gérard Depardieu’s performance as a VIP called Devereaux appears designed to elicit a variety of animal comparisons: pig, bear, bull, rhinoceros. His character grunts and wheezes, an overgrown satyr whose sex addiction can’t be satisfied, regardless of how many prostitutes or innocent bystanders fall into his path. Say this for the well-traveled, enormous Depardieu: He’s the most interesting thing about this bizarre film, and he exposes his baser instincts (and his corpulent body) with fearless abandon.
[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]
Vincent is losing his mistress, his factory and his health. In the dark night of the bourgeois soul he goes to see the wife he’s already lost because of the mistress. Embarrassed by his needs, discomfited by the sudden knowledge that another man has just left his wife’s bed, he tries on an expansive gesture in her small apartment—and knocks over a vase of straw flowers. Yves Montand is the miraculous kind of actor who can reach over, restore the flowers, and cap the action with a look and wave that encompass “You know me!”, “You would have that kind of thing in your apartment,” ”I’m really up that well-known tributary,” and “There! good as new!” It’s scarcely an isolated actor’s-moment in Vincent, François, Paul et les autres; Montand and his co-players serve up many. One of the best-acted scenes of 1976 is likely to remain the café interview, a bit later in the film, between Montand and wife Stéphane Audran: he indicating by cautious, hopeful indirection that he’s at liberty, the young mistress is gone, he no longer worries about being a man of affairs in any sense, and maybe they could give it another try; she understanding from the first, supremely considerate of his feelings and vulnerability, but aware that life has moved on and so have they, that she must answer other imperatives now.
The original French title of Going Places is Les valseuses, French slang for “The Testicles” (“The Nuts” would be its English counterpart). That’s a pretty accurate description of Bertrand Blier’s characters, a pair of aimless, amoral twenty-something buddies bouncing (or escaping) from one situation to another, all instigated by their own mix of childlike bad behavior and poor impulse control. You could call Going Places a sex comedy where sex has become some joyless act instigated out of instinct; a road movie where the road is less a promise of freedom than an escape hatch from whatever trouble they’ve landed themselves in; or a crime spree comedy of petty offences by dim crooks driven more by the thrill of transgression than the reward of ill-gotten gains.
Jean-Claude (Gérard Depardieu, all thuggish charm and studly swagger) and Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere as his often reluctant partner in crime) are not cute or creative rebels with a cause. These smug, swaggering young men are crude, often cruel petty thieves without principle or a master plan. They run on pure impulse and Blier takes pains to show these guys at their worst in the opening scenes. They harass a middle-aged woman before snatching her purse, force a mother on an otherwise deserted train to breastfeed her infant in front of them (and then let Pierrot have his turn at the teat), and all but sell a girl kidnapped in a getaway as part of an auto trade-in with a chop-shop owner. It turns out that the girl, named Marie-Ange and played by Miou-Miou, doesn’t mind being used as a sex toy. It’s just that these self-proclaimed studs fail to rouse her sexually. She just lays there, inert and bored, as they compete to get a reaction from her. After being the fall-back bed for Jean-Claude and Pierrot between misadventures, she just falls in as the third leg of this bohemian ménage-a-trois, content to drift along with them from one scam to the next: Bonnie and Clyde and Clyde.
[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]
MTN 55’s Tracking Shot noted: “Is that the best way? Novelist Patricia Highsmith saw her Strangers on a Train become a film classic under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock, but she rejected Hitch’s offer to direct her This Sweet Sickness. Claude Miller inherits the job.” Aha, but wait. There is a Hitch connection, for this novel was turned into an early episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Compressed into 45 minutes or so and renamed Annabel, it was, as I recall, adapted by Robert Bloch, had Dean Stockwell in the lead and was directed by Paul Henreid. As scripted by Bloch, it was a brisk tale of sexual obsession neatly rounded off by gore and girl-menacing, and it couldn’t be more different from this largely quiet and restrained French version. Where Stockwell’s central character was straightforwardly a nutter about whose eventual apprehension one could feel relief uncomplicated by much affection, the central figure in this movie, played most powerfully and sympathetically (for most of the way) by Gerard Depardieu is an unhappy fellow desperate for perfect love in a prosaic world, and his descent into madness is thus more chilling.