American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The truth is, there is a lot of doggy-do in Paris. Robert Altman has been attacked in some quarters for making a Paris movie in which people are always stepping in it and wiping it off their feet. The amazing thing is that all French movies aren't filled with it. Gerard Depardieu should be as famous for his footwork as for his dramatic range. The French take their dogs with them everywhere. I was in a French restaurant once when a guy came in with his dog and had the dog sit right at the table with him. The maitre d' rushed over and told the guy he couldn't be served unless he buttoned his shirt.
Altman's "Ready to Wear," originally titled "Pret-a-Porter" before it was determined that Americans speak English, uses doggie calling cards as a motif for the French fashion industry, in which people are always stepping in something, so to speak. The fashion industry is the most sublimely silly of human enterprises, making billions by convincing most of the human race to dress interchangeably and the rest to dress like the victims of a cruel jest. Once a year the industry gathers in Paris for the annual "ready to wear" shows, at which designers trot out their new clothes, and the world's fashion press has a great time. Altman has chosen this ritual as the latest target for one of his cheerfully rude human comedies, and boy, has the bleep hit the fan.
The movie is a "hate letter" to the fashion industry, sniffed Time magazine's Richard Corliss, adding, "When you hear the word contempt, you think of Robert Altman." Funny. When I hear the word "contempt" I think of Kurt Cobain. So there you are. Lots of other people also are offended by Altman's irreverent view of the fashion industry's delicate egos, but the purpose of a movie like "Ready to Wear" is not to play fair or be objective, but to entertain.
Is "Ready to Wear" entertaining? Not as much as I would have preferred. I think Altman and his writer, former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Barbara Shulgasser, should have gone further and been meaner; too many of his jokes are generic slapstick, instead of being aimed squarely at industry's targets. If there had been a way, for example, to work in more about anorexia and bulimia, booming diseases the fashion industry shares responsibility for, that would have been fine with me.