Starring: Philippe Noiret, Michel Bouquet, Farida Rahouadj, Catherine Hiegel
Reviewed by Clement von Franckenstein
Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 4.5
Philippe Noiret is my favorite French actor, and one of the great serio/comic actors of all time, on a par with Sir Ralph Richardson, Walter Matthau, and Marcello Mastroianni. He has had a 50-year film career, working for many great directors, including Tavernier, Hitchcock, De Broca, Malle, Berri, Chabrol, Cukor and Monicelli. My favorite was La Grande Bouffe
made in 1975 by Marco Ferreri, and the scandal of Cannes that year! It stars Noiret, Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, and Ugo Tognazzi (The "husband” in La Cage Aux Folles
) – all great comedians – in a tale of four louche and depressed middle-aged men who, with the help of some friendly girlfriends and hookers, literally eat themselves to death! A must rental if you have never seen it!
In Les Cotelettes (based on the stage play of the same name), Noiret plays a rich older married man who has set up an apartment for his voluptuous young mistress, and is seen dining with her and his teenage son. Knocking violently on his door comes another old man, a stranger played by Michel Bouquet (The "John Gielgud” of French film actors) who has come, as he says, to "piss you off!” The subtitles on this film are brilliant translations, whereby the very French phrase "vient faire chier” becomes the very American phrase "piss you off.”
It turns out that Bouquet has a French/Moroccan maid, excellently played by Farida Rahouadj (in the role performed on stage by the French movie-star, Miou-Miou) who has become his lover each morning that she cleans his apartment, and has restored his virility. She is also Noiret’s maid in the afternoons, but he treats her respectfully as a servant, not knowing that she is dying to be intimate with him! Bouquet starts harassing Noiret into becoming her lover as well; telling him how much he is missing, and how he can really make the poor, unhappily married, maid happy.
So is set in place Bertrand Blier’s raunchy sex comedy, which ran for a year on stage in Paris with the same two male leads (Noiret’s first stage role in 34 years), and the repartee and badinage between these two brilliant comedians is a joy to behold.
Noiret does indeed take the maid as his lover, and all is copasetic until "Death” appears, wearing a black corset, stockings, garters and silent movie make-up, in the shape of Catherine Hiegel (one of the great stage actresses from La Comedie Francais). She informs the two geriatric lovers that the object of their affections is about to die from a blood clot that afternoon! In order to keep her alive, the two old "geezers” have to make love (doggy style) to Ms. Death while the maid and her fellow dying patients in the hospital perform a Broadway style dance number choreographed by the famous Jean-Claude Galotta! The maid survives and all ends happily.
In an interview, Philippe Noiret describes the film’s script as "rabelasian” (after Rabelais, the famous 16th century writer of brilliant racy novels), impertinent, a pleasure for the mouth,” gross but never vulgar, and I whole-heartedly agree! If you want to see sophisticated French sex comedy, as only they can do it, then please see this film.