Pros: Creatively original sexual hi-jinks, eroticism, and good performances by Depardieu and Dewaere
Cons: Could have benefited from higher energy level; depicts sexual situations that are illegal in America
Ill lay my cards on the table right up front for this film much as Gerard Depardieus character, Raoul, does at the film's beginning. Im mildly shocked that this film, directed by Bertrand Blier, even exists. Im major shocked that it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 1978. Not shocked in the sense of moral indignation. Im a big boy who grew up in the flower-child era, so Ive seen enough weird stuff in real life that my intolerance meter is not especially sensitive. Im also not suggesting that the quality of this film is clearly undeserving of an award. Im simply shocked because I would never have predicted that the Academy would have the guts to select such a kinky film for a major award. Were the Academy to pick this film today, I have to imagine that the uproar would be deafening. Consider what this film is about.
The Story: Raoul (Gerard Depardieu) is truly devoted to his lovely but despondent wife, Solange (Carole Laure), and is distraught that she no longer smiles. He wants nothing more than to put the lovely smile he recalls back on her face. Suspecting that she has grown bored with him sexually, he proposes that she take a lover and suggests that the guy with glasses sitting just behind him in the little restaurant where they are chatting might do just fine. Raoul will arrange everything. Wandering over to the man, whose name is Stephane (Patrick Dewaere), Raoul quickly gets to the point, which amounts to, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, Take my wife, please!
Stephane, though a bit freaked out by this weird couple, is not adverse to giving it a go with the attractive Solange, but he is greeted with pretty much the same indifference that Raoul receives. The most Solange can muster by way of enthusiasm when propositioned by Stephane is a bored, If you want. Bit by bit, Stephane gets sucked into the same situation as Raoul utterly absorbed in trying to figure out why Solange is so dreary and how to make her cheer up. Soon, they are living in a classic ménage à trios, alternating nights, with none of them especially remembering whose turn it is. On the other hand, a genuine friendship blossoms between Raoul and Stephane (the highlight of the film, really), while Solange remains passive and indifferent to them both. From time to time she weeps or faints from sheer ennui. The doctors are baffled. Some suggest she needs to have a baby, but she seems unable to get pregnant despite the earnest efforts of her pair of studs. Even a next-door neighbor (Michel Serrault) gets drawn into the web of concern for listless Solange.
Stephane teaches recreation to young boys. He and Raoul hit upon a plan for the three of them to spend the summer as counselors at a boys camp. Most of the boys at the camp are from working class families, but one is a hyper-intelligent rich kid named Christian Boloeil (Riton). He is an inevitable goat for the pranks of the other boys, which somehow awakens maternal and protective instincts in Solange. Solanges attentions awaken something else entirely in Christian, who is, after all, a thirteen year old lad. This is where the film takes its shocking turn.
Christian is rescued by Solange from his barracks in the midst of still another hazing from the other lads. She brings him to her own bed and, after she has fallen asleep, Christian peeks surreptitiously here and there beneath her nightgown, not so much as beating around the bush. Solange finally awakens in the midst of his explorations and, in shock, kicks him out of her room. Christian, however, ever up to the task of playing on her sympathies, accuses her of having led him on and lacking maternal qualifications. Soon, she is baring it all for him on screen and in living color. What follows, inferentially, would qualify as statutory rape in any state in the USA but is apparently just good clean fun in France. At least Solanges smile has returned and Christian has never been happier!
After such a summer of entertainment, it is small wonder that Christian does not want to return home to his creepy parents. Mother was never so kind! Once he is returned home, he is briskly carted off to boarding school, where he regales his schoolmates with the details of his experiences with Solange. Some believe him, some dont, but either way, their attention is equally rapt. Solange, meanwhile, convinces her devoted men-of-record, Raoul and Stephane, that the only solution to her despondency is that they now locate and kidnap Christian from his school just for a weekend. As Christian is finishing up his story of his first sexual experience with Solange for the boys in his bunkroom, in walks Solange, straight to his bed, where she kisses him passionately as a roomful of horny boys look on rapturously agog.
After Christians liberation from the boarding school, he and Solange soon run off together, leaving Raoul and Stephane searching for words at the police station. They each get six months in the slammer. Christians mother takes up with the neighbor and Solange moves into Christians household as his governess. Soon, she is pregnant, thanks to the precocious Christian.
Themes: I dont know that this film is trying to make any point (I rather hope not) other than that kinky sex is good for laughs, especially when integrated with snappy dialogue and preposterous setups. If it is making a statement relating to sexual politics, then it is certainly a misguided one. Some reviewers seem to see a degree of advocacy in the film. One compliments the film for its lack of clichés and for presenting relational anarchy at its most challenging. Another suggests that Blier questions and ultimately debunks nearly every rule on relationships." Is the prohibition against sex between an adult and a 13-year-old merely cliché and bunk? Would the same be suggested if the genders were reversed a 13-year-old girl seduced by a man in his twenties? Since many 13-year-old boys likely relish the idea of being seduced by a gorgeous woman in her twenties, does that mean that it is less a moral violation than when a teen girl is seduced? I only pose these questions and am not foolish enough to suggest answers.
Production Values: Regardless of how one feels about the moral values (or lack thereof) portrayed in this movie, it does have some real strengths as a film and as a comedy as well as a smaller number of weaknesses. At the top of the list of strengths are the fine performances by Depardieu and Dewaere not only individually but in their chemistry as well. This is the youthful Depardieu when he was still trim and quite handsome. Carole Laure has a strange role to perform, having to manifest melancholic reserve almost throughout. She possessed all the physical comeliness necessary to grace the many scenes requiring frontal nudity. Some reviewers find Riton unappealing as Christian. I thought he was fine, though unremarkable.
The dialogue is spicy and the repartee sharp. The sexual hi-jinks make for some pretty humorous scenes. The editing is lively, with some unusually quick cuts from scene to scene. We go, for example, from some dialogue about planning something special for the summer to the midst of the summer camp in the blink of an eye. I enjoyed the frequent references to Mozart and Schubert and the excerpts from their work.
As far as weaknesses are concerned (other than whatever moral objections some viewers might have), Ive seen funnier French comedies, notably The Visitors, La Chevre and The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe. The energy level of Get Out Your Handkerchiefs was sometimes lacking.
Bottom-Line: Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is good for some laughs while flaunting somewhat outrageous disregard for standard sexual mores. As an X-rated film, it would be kinky; as an R-rated film, it pushes the envelope; but as an Academy Award winner, it is truly unexpected. This film is in French with English subtitles and has a running time of 108 minutes.