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The Forgotten: Calm, Calm, Calm

David Cairns

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Bertrand Blier, avuncular iconoclast of the French cinema, has said that his mission is fundamentally Godardian: to expose the mechanisms of cinema, while preserving the emotion of cinema. He's also said that he aims to mix in a little malaise with the pleasure. All of which is noble and interesting, although at times the malaise in question has seemed to be a gratuitous misogyny that wasn't so much examined or explored as simply doled out to the audience to make of it what they will.

The film that addresses this topic most directly, and has most to say about it, albeit in a puckish and perverse fashion, is Calmos, his follow-up to Les valseuses (literally, The Testicles: a story of two inseparable friends hanging out together), which had been his most successful and controversial film to date. If Blier had been surprised or hurt by accusations of women-hating, Calmos is an odd response, and perhaps an act of provocation.

We begin at a fashionable gynaecologist's, where Dr. Dufour (Jean-Pierre Marielle) ignores his patient in order to open some jars of pâté, relishing the aroma. As the woman waits, nude in the stirrups, he then selects a large French bread from a filing cabinet, uncorks a white wine, and prepares to enjoy his lunch. Just as he is biting into his crusty loaf, he happens to look up, and Blier treats us to a graphic POV shot of the kind one is more likely to find in a top-shelf magazine than in a "legitimate movie." Dr. Dufour loses his appetite, and flees the office.

In one scene, Blier has simultaneously managed to offend everybody he wants to offend, and set out his stall for the sex-war romp which follows. It's worth examining the assumptions underlying this one sequence. While the woman's behaviour, stripping naked and exposing her privates to a stranger, might seem odd in other circumstances, here she is acting in an entirely normal and appropriate fashion. The doctor's behaviour, preparing a tasty-looking repast, might be normal another situation, but here is seriously inappropriate. The unsavoury combination of pâté and genitals which Blier serves up in this scene may invite us to share the doctor's gynophobia (he really is in the wrong job), but it's inescapable that the source of the comedic discomfort is his unpleasantly insensitive way of taking a lunch break.

And so it continues: Dufour meets a fellow misogynist, the pimp Albert (Jean Rochefort) in the street, and the two men flee to the countryside, where they create an all male paradise of delicious food and no sex (The film's opposition of sexual and gustatory appetites is one of its strangest, but most French, idiosyncracies). Joining them in their Platonic orgies is the local priest, played with beetroot-cheeked gusto by the director's own father, the esteemed Bernard Blier.

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When Dufour's wife and Albert's prostitute-girlfriend show up to reclaim their partners, Blier escalates the proceedings into sheerest fantasy, as an apocalyptic gender war ravages the globe. Our "heroes" (whose objections to womankind are always shown as unreasonable and boorish) lead a band of like-minded rogue males into the wilderness, the scenes recall Cornell Wilde's survivalist dystopia No Blade of Grass. When the two leading men are captured and used as breeding material in a sci-fi lab, their erections piloted by white-coated dommes in a high-tech control room, we are in terrain closer to Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask, crossed with the horrors of Mike Hodges' The Terminal Man.

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Then our heroes are abandoned, like twin Robinson Crusoes in fur rags and white beards, fleeing the conquering distaff forces in their Leonard DaVinci-style hide hang-gliders (rather impressive special effects for the early seventies. Oh, I didn't mention it's the early seventies? But I thought that was understood...). This really is an odd film. I'm not sure it has anything much to say about misogyny, except that Blier, for all he may in fact suffer from it himself, clearly finds it a ludicrous and pathetic affliction.

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The whole operation ends up with most of the cast, including Blier's poor dad, hiding out in a giant vagina. Now, as Clive Barker once said, "I will go a long way to see something I haven't seen before." So if Blier's film comes to a dead stop at this point, having jettisoned cohesion and narrative logic long since, I still can't really complain that I'm dissatisfied. Because you just don't get scenes like this.

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The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

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