Menage (1986)

“Bob’s our only friend! He’s changed our lives with his magic wand…”

Menage Poster

Synopsis:
A bisexual thief (Gerard Depardieu) entices a down-and-out couple (Michel Blanc and Miou-Miou) into joining him as he robs wealthy homes — then reveals that he has a crush on Antoine (Blanc).

Genres:

Review:
Bertrand Blier’s darkly comedic sex caper moves in a series of entirely unexpected directions throughout its 84-minute running time. What at first appears to be a rather straightforward tale of a bickering couple turned on by the illicit thrills of thievery soon turns into a gay-themed exploration of desire and sexual identity, as Blanc’s ultra-reserved Antoine learns to appreciate and normalize the attention paid to him by the irresistibly forthright Bob (Depardieu); meanwhile, Miou-Miou’s sexually promiscuous Monique — the more obvious catalyst for marital destruction — is relegated to an increasingly degraded position in the trio’s crumbling “menage”. The first half hour of the film — during which Bob shows Antoine and Monique how to stroll into any mansion and discover its hidden riches — is so effectively satirical that one can’t help missing this narrative thread once it disappears completely; yet Blier’s willingness to explore his characters’ sexuality far beyond normal comfort levels is impressive, and makes Menage worth a look by viewers willing to let go of more traditional narrative expectations.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gerard Depardieu as Bob
    Menage Depardieu
  • Michel Blanc as Antoine
    Menage Blanc
  • Miou-Miou as Monique
    Menage Miou-Miou

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look, and a must-see for any fans of Blier’s work. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the Appendix to Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Menage (1986)”

  1. First viewing. Cinematic anarchy that ultimately makes for a must!

    Quite honestly, when I started watching this film, I felt I would soon find it unbearable. Why? Much like with ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, viewers are immediately dumped into the dreary dregs of a toxic relationship: Miou-Miou is letting Blanc have it verbally in public; she calls him every nasty thing she can think of (even Martha held back more at first) while, with every response, Blanc ‘reassures’ her of the depth of his love.

    This did not bode well.

    However, as noted, this is just the launching pad, and ‘Menage’ does indeed go quite a few different places in a very short time.

    I suppose appreciation of the film depends on how seriously you take it. Its ‘evidence’ of misogyny notwithstanding, I soon chose to not take it seriously at all and, perhaps for that reason, enjoyed it quite a bit. To me, it’s a sexual pinata that bursts with the vitality of a vintage Warner Bros. cartoon.

    Its effectiveness as such – quite apart from the dialogue – rests largely via the casting of the male leads. Could there be a more unlikely couple visually than diminutive Blanc and tall and burly Depardieu? This inspired match brings mileage. (I just about fell off my chair when Depardieu looked at Blanc lovingly and said, “I’ve got big plans for you.”)

    Each episode here appears progressively absurd, but the final, mind-boggling sequence – which, oddly, makes complete sense to me! – is the real lulu (um, almost literally, depending on the definition).

    Material like this is tricky to pull off – one needs a very game cast, and Blier got it. Depardieu, in particular, appears to be enjoying himself immensely throughout, tho Blanc is quickly at heel (if you will) when he dons drag (thus helping to usher in the career of Patti LuPone). Miou-Miou seems to have the hardest role – since it’s somewhat less comedic – but she proves herself fearless.

    Fave sequence: the three discover that one of the places they’ve broken into is owned by a very rich and very depressed couple (Jean-Pierre Marielle and Caroline Sihol) who eventually initiate a gang-bang (which, being suddenly prim and proper, Blier does not show us). I love the couple’s exchange when they’re complimented on their home:

    Marielle: Empty… No soul…
    Sihol: A piano without music. Abstract paintings that freeze your blood.
    Marielle: All this for what happiness? When did we last smile?

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