Koch Lorber // 1986 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // July 30th, 2009
A different kind of love triangle.
While it shocked a lot of people twenty years ago, Menage is probably a film best left in the past. These days, it looks pretty stale.
Antoine (Michel Blanc, Prospero's Books) and Monique (Miou-Miou, The Science of Sleep) are miserable, poor, and fighting in a restaurant when they are confronted by Bob (Gerard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac), a gay thief. He takes them on a whirlwind crime spree, but that's not the end goal. Bob is really after Antoine, for reasons that are never entirely clear. Meanwhile, Monique falls hard for Bob, though he shows no interest in her.
We talk about film and literature in perfect present tense. I explain to my students that they should think of the events as "always already" happening. As I was watching Menage, I realized that I couldn't think of the story in those terms. The events unfold on the screen in front of us, but we can't think of them as happening anymore.
Over 20 years ago, in 1986, Menage was probably quite shocking. It deals bluntly with homosexuality, using dark humor to create a love triangle the likes of which had rarely been seen at the time. Of course, in the decades since then, we've seen plenty of homosexuality on screen. The brief shots of thrusting legs no longer have the shock value they once did, making the whole affair seem not only silly, but also absurd. Shock covers up a multitude of things in film (try watching a mediocre horror movie twice), and there are some unpleasant things lurking under the surface here. The production is painfully misogynistic, for one thing. Monique is approached as a valueless shrew, and when her uses have run out, they simply sell her as a whore. The suggestion is that men make even better women than women do. For a while, it seems tongue in cheek, but there's never a wink, or a recovery.
More problematic, however, is the speed at which Antoine transforms from everyday joe to flaming queen. For part of the film I thought it was poking fun at the fear of homosexual contagion, but this joke never reaches its punchline either. Is the film trying to say that every man is gay deep down inside? Is it simply trying to break down notions of traditional sexuality? I'm not sure, and I doubt I ever will be. As the film descends more into madness, these troubling questions move from the background to the foreground, and I suspect the ending will leave a sour taste in the mouth of most audience members.
Some of the humor does work, thanks to some snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, it is translated snappy dialogue, and I get the distinct impression that many of the nuances and cultural meanings have been lost in the yellow text at the bottom of the screen. My French isn't good enough to verify this, but farce banter is always hard to translate. The only thing that really stands the test of time are the performances. Blanc won best actor at Cannes for this performance, and it's easy to understand why. As inexplicable as his transformation is, it does work well. This is one of Depardieu's best roles as well, creating an enigmatic character whose intentions and real desires are hidden from us as well as the other characters. It's a shame that Menage's status has shifted from shock comedy to curiosity piece so quickly.
The DVD is a bit of a disappointment. The video transfer is in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but it doesn't look great. The image is soft and harsh, though it's hard to know how much that's due to the source material. The sound is in its original mono, and it does little more than impart dialogue and music. There are no extras on the disc.
In order to enjoy Menage these days, you would have to both old-fashioned and openminded, which is a rare combination. The content no longer has the edge it once did, and edge is the only thing that held it together. Most viewers now will find it either trite or offensive.
Guilty of sticking around too long.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated