It’s been forty years since the French comedy Get Out Your Handkerchiefs won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and the Cohen Film Collection is reviving the film in a new 2K restoration touring US arthouses before an inevitable bow on Blu-ray, hopefully later this year.
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, which opens in Los Angeles on Friday, April 19, at the Laemmle Royal, is far from what most viewers might consider as typical Oscar fare. Instead, writer-director Bertrand Blier (Going Places, How Much Do You Love Me?) has created an absurdist romance that is partly a highbrow version of a Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly buddy comedy and partly a taboo-smashing spin on the coming-of-age sex romp.
Gérard Depardieu is baffled husband Raoul. His wife, Solange (Carole Laure), is suddenly unhappy — lifeless, even — and he can’t figure out why. He figures it must be him, so he decides to let a stranger swoop in and take his wife. Raoul picks handsome, if self-important, bachelor Stéphane (Patrick Dewaere) to restore Solange’s smile. Unfortunately, Stéphane knows more about stereo equipment and Mozart than he does about emotional fulfillment. So even though he and Solange hit it off sexually, she is just as mired in her malaise as she was with Raoul.
In a typically sensitive exchange, Stéphane posits that maybe Solange is just simple-minded. “Impossible,” replies Raoul, “I know myself. I couldn’t love a stupid bitch.”
With dialogue like that, it’s not surprising that the film came under fire for perceived misogyny upon release. One can also easily poo-poo the way the film’s characters treat Solange frequently like an object — one with emotions, granted, but emotions none of the male characters can seem to understand. The film doesn’t try to unpack her too much either, apart from the oft-repeated suggestion that she would be happy if she could just become pregnant.
Instead, the film, especially in its first half, has a good time showing the buffoonery of Depardieu and Dewaere’s characters as they try and fail to figure out what might make this woman they claim to love happy. One could argue the true romance blooms between these two oblivious men, as they realize their compatibility. More than just a comedy team, Depardieu and Dewaere become twins of a sort, reacting to their comeuppance like a conjoined entity.
That comeuppance comes largely in the film’s second half, in which our main threesome decides to become the caretakers of a summer camp (it doesn’t make sense, and the film never tries to make it make sense). There, they meet 13-year-old Christian (Riton Liebman), a bullied boy with a higher IQ than Raoul and Stéphane put together. Solange is drawn to Christian, at first maybe because of her dormant maternal instinct, but Christian is… shall we say… romantically precocious.
Wait? Are you telling me this story becomes a romance between a grown woman and a 13-year-old boy? Well, yeah, but arguably it was that kind of story the whole time. You can’t really consider man-children like Raoul and Stéphane grown-ups, can you?
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is button-pushing, but it is also so surreal and silly that it’s hard to get too upset about its nose-thumbing provocations. Personally, I prefer the approach of Blier’s later film Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil, which utilizes his penchant for reality-tweaking and anarchic humor in the service of an ultimately more humane and touching story. But, the cast is so much fun here — Depardieu and Dewaere are perfect self-involved saps, Carole Laure brings an unexpected gravity to a potentially thankless role, and the kid is an uncanny Casanova-in-training — that sick-humor aficionados will be more than satisfied.
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs opens in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal on Friday, April 19.
More Pop Culture Beast — Movie Reviews:
Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.