Judge Bill Gibron says the Pleasure Party definitely isn't the Republican Party.
Every party needs a pooper…
Philippe and Esther are a loving couple who give the outward appearance of happiness and harmony. But the truth is much more mixed-up. Philippe confesses to several affairs over the years, but instead of breaking up like normal angry lovers would, the poor dope gets his lady to agree to an open marriage. This means they can both sleep with whomever they want. Esther immediately leaps into bed with several of the couple's closest friends, while Philippe is instantly impotent with even the most sexually arousing gal. With all the reproductive ridiculousness floating around, our dumb duo stays committed to each other to avoid hurting their spoiled spawn: an ingratiating little daughter named Elise. But Esther eventually falls in love with Habib and leaves Philippe. Devastated, our rejected Romeo does what any man on the rebound would: he marries the first pseudo-stranger he sees. And as that quickie case of nuptials starts to fall apart, Philippe finds himself pining away for the long-gone Esther. He tries to woo her back. She rejects him. He kills her. Movie ends. Not exactly what you'd call a Pleasure Party, huh?
If the French ever wonder, between endless bottles of wine and practicing their snotty, craven attitudes, why the rest of the world hates them so, one viewing of Pleasure Party would be enough to induce a nice long case of self-loathing in the nearest Parisian. Reeking of the significance film legend Claude Chabrol pretends he is plastering all over the screen, but really nothing more than a self-indulgent pile of pig droppings, Pleasure Party wants to deconstruct the concept of relationships and happiness and argue that all human interaction is doomed. All it ends up destroying is your attention span, as endless minutes of dull dialogue go lilting by on inflated egos of non-exposition. This is one of those "character study" sagas, meaning that it's a movie that substitutes pointless minutia about people's pathetic personalities in place of actual plot development and drama. Oh sure, lots of great films have been made out of and about individualities, but Pleasure Party doesn't even try to offer us anyone remotely three-dimensional. Heck, we'd take someone whose inner scope is expressed in a numerical value to the left hand of the decimal point. Between the cruel, smug husband who over-rationalizes every event (from sitting by the seaside to going to the toilet) and the vacant vacuum of a wife who simply wants to sleep around (if you were saddled with the sanctimonious sack of shite she had to ball and chain, you too would leap for a lusty life preserver), there is not a single person we wouldn't mind seeing fed to rabid squirrel monkeys. Add in the most painfully precocious pee girl ever to stink up the screen with her non-acting awfulness, and what you're left with is a virtual poot of a film—cinema consisting of lots of air and hinting of hot sewage.
Now, Chabrol may be one of the founding members of the original New Wave of French filmmaking. He may also be responsible for some of the best psychological thrillers in the genre. He may also be Spiderman on his days off. But judging by the joke that is Pleasure Party, some of the accolades given to this overripe fromage of a filmmaker need to be recanted. Pleasure Party really has nothing to offers fans of any cinematic genre. There is no real-life verité quality; the futile fools in this film exist in a goofy glen of their own making. There is no sense of suspense or shock; even when our "crime" happens, it is left until Minute 93 of a 97-minute movie—and then it concludes in an ambiguous, unsatisfying fashion. About the only taxonomy Pleasure Party can be assigned to is that of an "erotic psychological thriller," and then it only fits the mold if "erotic" is defined as "sexual as a sugar wart," and thriller means "meandering about pointlessly" (we all know that boredom is a true mental state). So if you want a movie that mills about dribbling on itself, unable to maintain a narrative "stiffy," and passing off middle-aged male menopause as some supersonic bedroom ballyhoo, then by all means get yourself an over-the-counter pep pill, put on several pots of coffee, and look for the most uncomfortable place to lounge before you barrel into this undercooked frog flop. But don't be surprised if, even with needles inserted in your spinal column and Krazy Glue bonding your eyelids open, you still fall into a non-entertained state of catatonia.
Pleasure Party fails for so many reasons that to pinpoint just one seems stupid. But perhaps it's best to understand that this movie employs a notion about commitment and love that is so dated, scientists can actually utilize it to measure the half-life of certain chemical compounds. Back in the wonderful fetid firmament known as the '70s (where this critic experienced his teenage tutelage), everyone was questioning the concept of marriage and relationships, using the sexual revolution of the '60s as a backdrop for some rather ripe redrawing of human dynamic districts. Films also wanted to use this Onan-and-ovary awakening as the basis for a few bold lashes at the conservative conventions of cinema. So you could say that Pleasure Party is as much about matrimony as Last Tango in Paris is about cheese storage.
For Chabrol, this is an obvious experiment in interpersonal family therapy via the Panaflex lens. Too bad the moviemaker and his screenwriter, Paul Gégauff, aren't on the same piece of onionskin. Casting himself as the A-#1 asshole Philippe, Gégauff apparently needed to work out his wounded male pride by blaming everyone but himself for his obvious real-life domestic collapses. He should also be ashamed for dragging any member of his kin through the mid-life crisis crapola he's constantly spewing. And yet he adds insult to incest by making his ex-wife Daniele and his own creepy child Clemence play off his offensiveness. The end result is the perfect definition of hedonism: a desire on the part of this Paris-based pain in the ass to have the whole world witness his whining. Why someone like Chabrol would indulge this douche leads back to the issue of time and place. Created in the heyday of filmic experimentation, Pleasure Party proves not all '70s cinema set the benchmarks for future movie magic.
Just to make matters worse, Pathfinder treats this film with the kind of contextual respect that should be bestowed on better, more manageable movies. As a champion for more extensive bonus material, this critic finds it hard to argue with so much added value. But Pleasure Party is such an acquired taste that to lavish this much attention on it seems presumptuous. Still, the information here is a must-have for the legions of Chabrol lovers.
The main extra is a full-length audio commentary by film critic Dan Yakir and screenwriter Ric Menello. Instead of going for the anecdotal and light, this duo is all about analysis: references to shot choices, inferences made by cinematic gestures, the obvious use of symbolism. But even in their overt scrutiny, they don't end up saving the show. Honestly, these guys read a great deal into this film that really isn't there, and they're blinded by their absolute love of Chabrol. So this narrative will only fascinate those full-fledged fans. Others may want to know even more. And this DVD just keeps on giving. There is a 49-minute interview with Chabrol (recorded on the set of his 1977 film Blood Relative by Yakir) that further fleshes out the themes and tenets of this title. Chabrol is very articulate, elaborating on the importance of the script and the limitations of cinema. Unfortunately, Chabrol speaks in his native French, and the answers are translated into text across stills from the film—sometimes, the words are lost in the colors of a photo or choice of font hue. We also get production notes, biographies and a stills gallery to add to the admiration.
From a purely home theater viewpoint, Pleasure Party is offered in a decent if flawed presentation. The 1.66:1 widescreen image is non-anamorphic and riddled with negative flaws. You can see the dirt and decay in some of the outdoor scenes. Yet there are times when the movie looks well preserved and picturesque. The Dolby Digital mono is less than stellar, however. The movie's aural issues, its tinniness and dropouts, show sure signs of age.
For some, ridiculing Chabrol and his Pleasure Party may seem like heresy. Yet taken without the trademark kowtowing and viewed on its own, this movie misses its point more often than it succeeds in selling it. Paul Gégauff was obviously a very disturbed man, and this fictionalized look at his life might have been provocative if his character had a single saving grace. It just goes to prove that, while the most miscreant man can be terrifically terrorizing, watching a simple movie made about him can be equally torturous.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Film Critic Dan Yakir and Screenwriter Ric Menello
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.