Menage (1986)

A poor married couple connects with a gay (possibly bi) criminal who is growing wealthy by robbing houses of laissez faire aristocrats. A love triangle of fluid sexuality evolves with a screwball comedy pace, but tinged with moments of bleak soul-searching and dark violence.

It sounds like a pretty promising premise on paper, right?

But Bertrand Blier’s Menage never quite connects on any deeply entertaining or illuminating level, especially as it spirals into a perplexing final act.

For starters, the comic elements are mostly wry and subdued. There are not many big punchlines or set pieces to be found here. The movie’s scarce laughs are extracted from situations slowly and satirically turned on their head; conversations echo previous exchanges in entirely new and clever dimensions.

The funniest individual moment might actually be the opening shot: Miou-Miou’s Monique staring at the camera and berating it as a “piece of shit.” We know shortly that she’s speaking to Michael Blanc’s Antoine, but I enjoyed the idea that the movie has such hostility for its audience that it opens with a fourth-wall breaking insult.

The film’s dramatic elements are just as hit-or-miss as its comic notes. Bob, the career criminal, played by the imposing Gerard Depardieu, is an inscrutable character on a razor’s edge between gold-hearted softy and psychopath. The movie simultaneously wants us to love and hate him with little development one way or the other. I suppose this is intentional, but his zigzag arc felt jarring and unsatisfying.

Just when the movie finds its rhythm of treating its trio as a sexually confused Bonnie and Clyde gang close to the halfway point, and I really started to come around on it, Menage takes a hard pivot into a stranger and darker continuity. The film uses abrupt time jumps and character changes, with unexpected violence and cruelty.

The final scene is elliptical and hints at something more thoughtful and creative under the movie’s surface than I ever actually detected, leaving me wondering if the movie would have been better if it had just amped up the surreality from the start.

The cast does good work all around, especially Depardieu and Blanc, and there are some nice moments of direction, especially during indoor capers in the movie’s first half, but it’s all a bit workmanlike and not enough to save the script.

Given that Menage is 35 years old, its depiction of sexuality is surprisingly nuanced and non-stereotyped. But the script (at least its English translation) is full of slurs and crude one-liners. I also fear that the movie ultimately equates queerness with depravity more than it needs to; Depardieu’s seedier moments can certainly be read that way.

In all, Menage is an interesting and provocative watch, but ultimately neither entertained me nor felt like it had much to say.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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