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Les Valseuses
cast: Gerard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere, Miou-Miou, Jeanne Moreau, and Isabelle Huppert

director: Bertrand Blier

113 minutes (18) 1974
widescreen ratio 16:9
Second Sight DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
How you respond to this film very much depends upon how you take to the idea of the 'free-spirit' who flouts the rules of society and by embracing anarchy shows up petit-bourgeois conformity for the sham it is; alternatively this film is about a couple of petty thugs who shag, steal and generally leach on the back of a culture powerless to stop them.

Director Bertrand Blier was another 'heir to Bunuel' and this film brought him and Depardieu to a wider public cementing their early reputations. Les Valseuses was enormously commercially successful in France, only beaten at the box-office by the 'classy' soft porn of Emmanuelle, but polarised critical opinion into those who saw it as escapist referencing of popular culture, particularly the nouvelle vague cinema of the 1960s, and those who saw it as "misogynistic Nazi trash" (Jean Domarchi, Ecran, 1974).

Depardieu and the less commercially successful Deweare, pretty much founded their reputations upon playing marginal characters like these; Depardieu moved on and, to my mind, at 26 years he looked too old to be doing what he does in Les Valseuses, and that accounts for my hostility to this movie, from my own middle-class perspective I find it hard to be amused at the knockabout antics of a couple of ageing French punks.

Of course the big mistake of hostile critical opinion was to take Les Valseuses as a realist portrayal of working-class marginals, and man the barricades against it from an over-developed politically correct stance of proletarian solidarity. Similarly the charges of misogyny based on the assaults on 'minor' female characters, particularly where Dewaere takes his turn at the breast of a nursing mother on a train, ignores the more complex and at times ironic depiction and playing of the characters of Miou-Miou and the great Jeanne Moreau.

The film is an engagement with the so-called 'crisis in masculinity' of the mid-1970s where emasculated by the women's movement and by rising unemployment, men became destabilised and with no outlet for an aggression deemed socially unacceptable came to question their own virility; les valseuses is French slang for testicles, and one of the characters fears for his potency after a bullet grazes his balls.

So, either a masterpiece of French 'alternative' cinema of the 1970s, heir to the nouvelle vague and curtain raiser for postmodern high jinks to follow, or an annoyingly self-satisfied little period piece with ugly characters making fun of traditional values.

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