[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]
A vaguely arty bourgeois couple experiment with sexual freedom and end by pretty thoroughly disassembling their lives as they have known them. The bored wife of a New Guinea–based diplomat leaves the capital long enough to scout up some exotic feathers for the world of haute couture, learns of a likelier source farther from civilization, and ends by disappearing into a white area on the map in quest of Paradise. Claude Chabrol directed Une Partie de plaisir and Barbet Schroeder made La Vallée but, while each film makes sense in the context of its director’s career, some broad thematic similarities suggest that Paul Gégauff, the screenwriter they claim in common, has been at least equally important in determining the nature of the finished films.
Une Partie de plaisir, in fact, may be even more Gégauff’s film than Chabrol’s: in addition to having written the script, Gégauff plays the leading role—opposite his wife Danièle—and has freely called attention to the psychodrama aspect of the whole venture. Suggesting both a visual and characterological cross between George Macready and Shepperd Strudwick, Gégauff’s protagonist is first seen introducing his wife to the pleasures of baiting a fishhook with a live crawfish and then making love to her on a rock by the sea. At one of Chabrol’s dinnertable interludes shortly after they have left this vacation site, he brings up the subject of extramarital sex—Has she indulged? Ever wanted to? How would she feel if he did?—because, well, he has, it was no big deal, and he wouldn’t mind at all if she yearned for a temporary change now and again. She’s shy, dubious, just a little wounded by both the revelation and the suggestion; but when a house party affords the opportunity not long afterward, she opts for a brief adventure with a gentle Arabian friend of a friend. The husband listens to her sounds of pleasure somewhere in the house, and tenderly looks in to be sure their child is sleeping peacefully. But life-events get away from the teacher. While still abiding by his libertarian principles—and copping friendly feels from another mutual friend in the kitchen—he begins to compete with the lover, and insults the friend that this interloping friend of a friend has brought to the next party. While she screws the Arab, the husband can’t manage to stay the course with the kitchen cuddler. And so, with increasing psychosexual complications, it goes, as the wife continues to discover her own identity and Gégauff becomes more and more desperate about—and insistent on—his male supremacy.