Love Is Strange
The emotions unleashed by "Love Is Strange" are enormous. It is a patient and, ultimately, transcendent film.
“What I sell is true love,” says the heroine of Bertrand Blier's “Mon Homme.” “With me they hear the music.” She says her name is Marie (Anouk Grinberg) and she is the hooker of a john's dreams: “I should pay you,” she tells one client. As the film opens, we find her sitting outside a hotel (“This is where I spin my web”), explaining how much she enjoys prostitution. “Ever thought of being paid for it?” she asks a matron who is passing by. The matron has. In no time at all, Marie has talked her into turning her first trick.
Blier's films are often about men in the service of their sexual needs. “Too Beautiful for You” (1990) starred Gerard Depardieu as a man who leaves his elegant wife for the dowdy secretary who obsesses him. The Oscar winner “Get Out Your Handkerchief” (1977) starred Depardieu as a man who despairs of satisfying his wife. In “Mon Homme,” Blier in a sense has cast his usual male role with a woman: Marie calls the shots, satisfies herself, sleeps with whom she wants, and gets paid for it.
But her life is not perfect until one day she discovers a derelict sleeping near a garbage heap. She brings him home, feeds him (leftover veal stew; French refrigerators never contain old pizzas and doggie bags from the Chinese restaurant). Then they make love. Grinberg is awesome in suggesting her passion; the earth shakes because she's shaking it. There is a small detail that's just right: the way she bites his chin through his beard. Jeannot (Gerard Lanvin) is expert and enduring. She bathes him, shaves him and asks him to be her pimp and take all her money.
He: “What if you want money?” She: “I'll ask you for it.” He: “And if I refuse?” She: “Then you'll be a real pimp.” I wouldn't go so far as to say there are no hookers like this in Paris, but Blier may have found the only one.
I was distracted, during their lovemaking, by the thought that a homeless man, found on a garbage heap, would be aromatic. Shouldn't she have bathed him before sex? But a moment's thought reveals that Marie is not being entirely truthful about her needs: It is not so much that she loves sex and prostitution as that she's a masochist, as Jeannot intuits when he slaps her after she has given him stew, sex and what he concedes is a rather nice red wine. (“Like the smack?” She nods. Later, good fellow that he is, he instructs her on how to duck when she senses a slap on its way.) If Blier had been true to the logic of the story, he would have followed Marie's compulsions to their bitter end. Instead, he spins off into Jeannot's story, as the new pimp (who cleans up nicely) seduces a manicurist, names her Tangerine and tries to set her up in business. Tangerine, who thinks with her mouth open, does not have enough wit for the game, and soon Jeannot is being slapped around by the cops; in France, it is legal to be a prostitute but not to be a pimp.
The film drifts away into developments, fantasies, whimsy and conceit.
Its energy is lost. Blier has a strong central character and abandons her rather than accept the inescapable implications of her behavior. I do not argue that prostitutes cannot be happy (indeed, I have here a letter from a prostitute taking me to task for calling all the characters in “Boogie Nights” sad). But I argue that Marie is not happy, and that Blier's view of women and their sexuality is so narrow that he simply cannot accommodate that inconvenience.
White privilege, lived.
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