written and directed by Bertrand Blier
starring Patrick Dewaere, Ariel Besse,
Maurice Ronet, Nathalie Baye, Geneviève Mnich
Maurice Ronet, Nathalie Baye, Geneviève Mnich
A mother catches you looking at her daughter. She scowls, she knows what you are thinking because she knows what her husband is thinking when he looks at his daughter’s friends. Yet she scowls more when she sees her daughter returning the gaze.—Nic Kelman, girls
Far more resonant than a mere sex comedy — and far sadder, in fact, than its risqué premise prepares you for — Bertrand Blier's bittersweet French pastry Beau Père is like a resigned "c'est la vie" exhaled through cigarette smoke as one looks out over the Seine for the last time; it wears its jazz-laced melancholy like a comfy old sweater. Blier forgoes the nudge-wink provocations one would expect from a Euro-flick about a thirtysomething musician seduced by his underage stepdaughter; he's as uninterested in Godardian nose-thumbing at bourgeois propriety as he is in moralistic finger-wagging. Accordingly, the film bares the knobby, fifteen year-old chest buds of lead actress Ariel Besse as nonchalantly as it ends with the sight of a blonde moppet mesmerized by watching her mother have sex, yet it's so disarming in its acquaintance with human impulse and its imperviousness to common sense, and so committed to its soft-porn setup as a vehicle for exploring its characters' loneliness, that the would-be shocks don't register as such; Blier's assertions about the sexual psychology of our daughters and nieces cozy up to us like the melody to a familiar song.
Besse's ridiculously doe-eyed Marion confesses to stepdad Rémi (Patrick Dewaere, a Blier regular) that years of listening to him stick it to her mother only aroused her curiosity; yet, rather than blanch, we find ourselves recalling our own childhood fascinations with sex as that constant amorphous presence on the periphery of our understanding, dangled just out of our reach until we were deemed old enough to join the party. Marion crawls into Rémi's bed to coo at him about the sensitivity of her still-developing breasts (while sporting pigtails that almost make her a parody of our notions of little-girl innocence), and we find ourselves nodding: yes, the experienced-older-man archetype will always hold a seat-moistening allure for audacious nymphets in the springtime of sexual awareness — particularly so in our "progressive" post-Women's Lib delirium, in which the neutering-for-equality's-sake of young masculinity has rerouted female sexual need down all sorts of avenues that champions of dismantling "the patriarchy" never intended. Beau Père glanced back at the Sexual Revolution™ yanking society's protective hedge from around the female id, and served up a teaser for the inevitable: ever greater numbers of sub-drinking-age sweeties would soon bypass playing "Daddy" with nice boys browbeaten into passivity and seek men old enough to be the real thing.
Beau Père was kept from U.S. distribution for over a year after its premiere — surely, Besse's training-bra tits prominently displayed on the French theatrical-release poster didn't allay anyone's fears. Missed in all the New York Times agonizing over potential youth exploitation, though, is the fact that Marion's campaign to be deflowered by her stepfather is simply the culture-bullying of "my body, my choice!" harridans taken to one of its many logical conclusions. God bless him: Blier, in effect, hijacks one of feminism's greatest planks — that cherished notion of young women breaking with convention and "owning" their sexuality — in service of the ultimate Lester Burnham wet dream, a cheeky reversal of the classic Lolita scenario. Pace Messrs. Nabokov and Kubrick, it's Marion who's driven to obsession by her inability to get Rémi in her pants, Marion — our jailbait idol of unsullied girlhood, a French vanilla ice cream cone dripping with predestined heartbreak — who functions as Beau Père's Humbert Humbert: besotted to the point of social isolation, hellbent on storybook rapture with an age-inappropriate paramour who admits his desire for her yet keeps her dangling on the string of his devotion to her recently deceased mother (not to mention, his determination to avoid a prison sentence).
When Marion finally teases out her confession of all-consuming lust, Rémi goes saucer-eyed and greets her embrace with hover-handed consternation, but her pining for his touch is fairly obvious from the moment they first share a frame; he ignores the two and two his intuition keeps putting together. She gravitates toward whatever space he's in, those quavering brown headlights she has for eyes (at times, Besse looks as if she'd been sketched by an anime artist) sizing up the widescreen distance between them, trying their damnedest to beam a lovestruck S.O.S. through the newspaper he keeps near his face whenever she's around like some emotional barricade. She waits in nightgown like some starry-eyed little girl's fantasy of a dutiful wife as Rémi returns home — she takes his coat, she follows him to the couch, she almost plants herself in his lap, radiating so much near-motherly concern for him at the expense of her own needs that she's practically glowing, before slipping an arm around him and trying to cuddle up to his rigid, slowly comprehending frame. He'll take her by the hand and lead her into the bedroom from there, but it won't be the exchange of bodily fluids she's anticipating — they soak each other in tears over the car wreck that's claimed Marion's aging model of a mother, Rémi being perfectly willing to use her as a hug-doll for his time of mourning while assuming that the flame he's just stoked will die out on its own, that it's a passing schoolgirl crush he'll never be pressed to give an answer to.
However dissolute he may be, Rémi takes his role as stepdad — le beau-père responsable — seriously (or, at least, seriously enough): he twists himself into a knot over how to break it to the poor girl that she no longer has a mother. A highlight of the film's balance between tickling you with human folly and making you want to sniffle into your fifth martini shows Rémi sitting across from Marion as she does her homework; he's composing a letter to her that he feels will drop the bombshell more gently than a mere talk can, his words on the page revealed to us in voice-over as the kind of heartfelt life coaching designed to keep a sweet kid from falling to pieces. He's reassuring her of his continued presence in her life, offering up his shoulder for the tears that are sure to come, all of it addressed to "my little Marion" — the orchid he's tended from germination, the unofficial-now-official daughter his beloved wife has left to his precarious molding. And all Marion the reverie-dazed young hormone machine can make out as she peers across to meet his gaze, spilling over with worried-dad mawkishness and scared shitless in the face of this new responsibility as it is, is that he's making eyes at her, that he's harboring the same desire for near-incest that she is. It's the slyly comic misunderstanding that sets the rest of the film in motion: a born cad's self-reforming catapults toward respectability going splat against the brick wall of a fourteen year-old girl's dunderheaded conflation of romance with danger; his sincere urge to do the right thing torpedoed by the hold on even the sanest man's biology that only fertility in bloom can maintain, what with the teen coquette's unique erotic fragrance — that child's willingness to be shaped, wrapped in raw pheromonal urgency — at its ripest. (Or as rapper 2Pac once put it: "A bitch could be, like, fifteen, fuckin' witta nigga [that's] thirty-five, gittin' him for erry-thang.")
What Rémi, to the corruption of his new-dad initiative, is forced to come to terms with is nothing less than the ephebophilic heart of man's programmed drive toward reproductive fruitfulness — that eternal guarantee of competition from younger, prettier females that pushed feminists to lobby for today's eighteen-and-over laws and "statutory rape" shaming. It's the reason middle-aged men with the looks, the charm and the money to pull it off show up to dinner parties with women young enough to be their daughters. It's the reason comedian Patrice O'Neal once observed that "a beautiful thirty-five year-old ain't as good-lookin' as an ugly nineteen year-old." It's the reason that, far and away, the porn biz's most lucrative niche is the one devoted to the fantasy of the "barely legal" teen (especially as it portrays her "first time" in front of a camera). It's the reason popular song has crystallized the baby-faced, baby-fat vixen on the cusp of her transition from precocious cygnet to erotic swan as our pan-cultural, pan-generational, psychosexual elixir of life — from blues standards ("Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl," Muddy Waters' "She's Nineteen Years Old") to Chuck Berry (the "Little Queenie" who's "too cute to be a minute over seventeen"); from Sam Cooke ("Only Sixteen") to Neil Diamond ("Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon"); from Lennon-McCartney ("Well, she was just seventeen" in "I Saw Her Standing There") to Jagger-Richards (the fifteen year-old in "Stray Cat Blues"); from Zeppelin ("One day soon, you're gonna reach sixteen" in "Sick Again") to Motörhead ("Jailbait"); from cheese-metal ("Christine Sixteen" by KISS, Winger's "Seventeen," Warrant's "Cherry Pie" — an ode to virgin pussy) to, hell, original M.C. and ghetto-rage agitpropist/Afrocentric we-wuz-kangs revisionist KRS-One (in Boogie Down Productions' "13 and Good").
It's the reason an oral history of Zeppelin quotes insiders who talk about the band getting blowjobs from thirteen year-olds in the back of star deejay Rodney Bingenheimer's club, and about a subculture of vampiric groupie moms who groomed their high school-age daughters to feed off the fame and energy of others — to extract, via hotel-room assignations and after-hours sex parties, all the cars and perks and gossip-column notoriety that they themselves were too far past their own primes to obtain. It's the reason yours truly, back in my sport-fucking-the-rainbow phase, nearly rear-ended cars on Santa Monica Boulevard while lost in ogling quinceañera-age mestiza baby-dispensers and the waterbed bob of Jiffy-colored cleavage as the stroller they pushed hit every raised fissure in the L.A. sidewalk. It's why novelist Nic Kelman, in girls, his psychologist-cum-historian's contextualization of that programmed male drive, illustrated the thoughts of a man about to fuck an underage prostitute as follows:
The bottom line — the God-given, ineradicably biological bottom line — is this: men, whether old or young, straight or homosexual, and regardless of moral inclination or social standing, want to fuck teenagers as young as they possibly can. Some can and do, many can but don't, and most simply lack the ability to intrigue fatherless tarts with an unbridled masculine presence or with the cad's brazen disregard for social (and possibly legal) roadblocks. Brittle spinster egos be damned, though, there's no fantasy, no mental what-if, no possibility whether far off or close enough to taste with the flick of one's tongue, that's as stirring to the libidos of men — born explorers and conquerors of uncharted territories that they are — as the planting of I-was-her-first flags, the defiling of sexual innocence. Innocence is suicidal by God's own design, of course; it begs to be sacrificed, to be stripped and fondled and laid quivering before that amorphous presence that must finally take shape and bring it to its ceremonial end so that the cycle of life may properly begin.This girl they sent up really is young. It's possible she's not even sixteen. The traces of childhood are gone — the gangliness, the spindly limbs and neck, the overlarge eyes — but just barely. Her hips have hardly swollen enough to give her a waist, her breasts will still develop a little more. But God is she sexy. She has the most beautiful eyes, the fullest lips. When you opened the door the thought that she might be too young flashed through your mind for a second, just for a second, but then you dismissed it, asked yourself what that meant anyway, by whose standards, by where's standards, she was capable of carrying a baby wasn't she? In Egypt she would already be a married mother of more than one child.
For Rémi, it's an innocence that waits naked in his bed for him, an innocence that finally rips that damn evening edition of Le Monde from his face and climbs atop him like a bonobo in heat. Oh, he throws everything he can at it, this quenchless beast that knows no shame, that has Marion wielding even the loss of her mother as a cudgel of pouty-lipped persuasion. He appeals to their age difference, to his role as her guardian, to her mother's spirit, which he imagines casting its condemnatory glare down upon them. He isn't quite old enough to go for little girls, he tells her — he isn't yet ready for his midlife crisis. She gives him pause with her spoiled-brat impudence at being tossed out of his bed and told to go to her room, and with her pliability in offering to alter her very appearance for him. But alas, nature reserves its wickedest tricks for those whose scheme is to leash it: it's the sparks these signifiers of lingering childhood give off, as they chafe against the Venus that's pushing out from underneath, that ultimately melt his steely resolve. In fact, they nearly send it trickling down his face as he comes clean to his wife's spirit about having put the first miles on her saucer-eyed bichette while assuring her, as if fending off her emasculating verbal pin-pricks that very moment, that he was as gentle as could be. (Beau Père makes for a strangely Catholic film around its edges: Rémi's ideation of Marion's mother watching him from the afterlife, his apartment walls adorned with her modeling shots as if the place were a shrine to a saint, the confessions of Rémi and other characters who break the fourth wall and confide in us what they're unable to express to anyone within the narrative.)
It's not that male sexuality hews to some Freudian codswallop wherein all men want to fuck their daughters — men in tune with nature's dictates, after all, nourish and optimize their bloodlines, not pervert and decay them. Rather, it's a sense of power that's at play here — power being, as always, the supreme aphrodisiac. Gangliness, child's eyes, and hips and breasts yet to be filled in evoke for men a blossoming maiden in need of fatherly molding; a Marion whose carnal essence juxtaposes sexual maturity with childlike psychological tendencies does the same — fatherly molding being, most especially where it shapes tomorrow's wives, mothers and gatekeepers of sexual access, the single greatest power a man can have. It's the reason porn starlets catering to their male audience and women in seduction mode often slip into breathy little-girl talk with its fetishistic callbacks to childhood discipline ("Daddy," "spank me," "I've been a bad girl," etc.) — that hand-against-ass corrective for willful little girls traditionally meted out by the man of the house, the ever-potent "father" in that pulse-quickener of a mothers' threat, "Just wait 'til your father gets home."
As for female sexuality, well, life experience and a clear-eyed observation of social trends make plain that a woman's fundamental hardwiring is altogether less beholden to logic than a man's, something far more dysgenically inclined if the fruit it bears is left to grow wild and untended. The Electra complex isn't just a nifty shrink's theory derived from mythology: all daughters, however symbolic the beneficiaries of their clammy affections, seek validation and regeneration in the arms of the Great Father. It's Daddy, in singularity, who determines the sexual path his daughter takes. If he's stalwart in his protection and direction of her, then he's crafted for her a template of stability under male guidance that she'll seek to carry over into her relationships; she'll pursue a man or men like him. If he rejects her via weakness or negligence, or he's simply absent, then what erupts is the lashing-out of the ignored child: she smites her motherly purpose — the continuation of his genetic legacy — by squandering her best years on slutdom as "self-expression" before shitting out a "developmentally challenged" Rain Man baby at thirty-five plus; she flings herself and the future of his lineage at the feet of men she perceives to be as offensive to his sensibilities as possible, as if to curse him by destroying or at least sullying what he's created. All the while, she's still seeking men to fill the void he's left. (As for fathers who do kiddy-fiddle, well, every street john, strip club patron and consumer of porn the world over owes them a hearty, "thanks, guys, and keep up the good work.")
Quelle surprise, then, that Marion should swan-dive into the mother-anointed loins of her substitute daddy. Given a rather high-handed, sulky air by veteran character actor Maurice Ronet, her estranged father Charly's an old smoothie gone sour from having sat out too long — one of those men for whom a divorce they never wanted is the cut that's never healed, and in the residual bitterness over feeling moved on from, and at having their children snatched from under them, they turn petty, graceless. They abdicate their parental roles, as if depriving the child of a father might cripple its development enough that their ex would grow remorseful and finally realize how indispensable they are. Charly's hardly broken up about his ex-wife's death upon receiving the news from Rémi; Marion's not even on his radar. Charly's still settling scores: he berates Rémi for failing to give his ex the lavish life of a musical prodigy's wife, then demands to know why Rémi stole her away from him. When Rémi asks what they're going to do about Marion, a dim light dawns in Charly's eyes — he utters, "oh, merde!" as if only then recalling that she bears some vague relation to him. (The same "oh, merde!" is exclaimed by the driver whose truck Charly's ex smacks into — two men forced to reckon with damage they hadn't intended to cause.) Essentially, Charly's a cuckold twice over: first, Rémi poaches his wife, then Rémi fucks his daughter, who — in a kick-to-the-heart echo of her mother's marital perfidy — makes no secret of her preference for the brooding artiste and all his pianistic je ne sais quoi over her own flesh and blood. Her cherry pie offers Rémi the interloper a branch on Charly's family tree because to do so is a jab in her daddy's eye, payback for his having penciled in the well-being of his little girl far beneath the running of his nightclub and the nurturing of an aging-playboy existence on his list of priorities.
If Blier errs, it's in making Marion a bit too much of a sexual Madonna figure, far beyond any real teenager's capacity for selflessness. (Nabokov had the right tack: Dolores Haze picked away at the layers of Humbert Humbert's sanity then flung them back in his face, the way boys exploring the limits of their own cruelty pluck the wings off flies.) His instincts fuel the film's transgressive charge, though: Marion the middle-aged artist's idée fixe (correctly) sees teen pussy as unguent for a wounded soul; her antennae — attuned as they are to Rémi — have picked up his depressive transmissions long before her mother is out of the picture. As Rémi explains to us while tickling the ivories in the high-end restaurant that employs him as dinner accompaniment for rich tourists: he'd given himself until the age of thirty to succeed as a musician and here he is at twenty-nine and a half and fully aware that he's been kidding himself all along; while he's stuck soundtracking the late-night swooning of Cupid-darted geriatrics with jazz standards no one cares about, his own wife is leaving him and, fool that he is, he's as smitten with her as ever. It's less a narration to the audience than a self-romanticizing, if charming, sad-sack baring his soul to the bartender whom he's mistaken in his fog of inebriation for his only friend in the world, just before he goes home to slit his wrists to his favorite old Bud Powell record.
One seeking the human embodiment of Beau Père's irresistibly sighed fatalism over a glass of Pernod could scarcely find better than Patrick Dewaere as Rémi. He cuts a hangdog, almost Chaplinesque figure here in his cheap tux behind a baby grand, massaging out his wordless elegies for what Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry once expressed as "l'amour, toujours l'amour." As Rémi seduces us with talk of what goes on in the minds of lonely pianists like himself, he's got the cleft chin, the seedy affability and the practiced candelit-dinner flattery of a broken-down gigolo who bangs rich old widows for grocery money — except that it's still a genuine act of passion for him; deriving his energy from the curled toes and arched back of another woman in his pursuit of something that might last a little longer this time: it's who he is. We never doubt that he's a good guy in his own way, but years of wasted potential — flitting moth-like from flame to flame, never sitting still — have wilted his ability to look in a mirror; he's gone from the self-convincing buoyancy of Kid Creole and the Coconuts' "I'm a Wonderful Thing, Baby" to Ferry on the cover of Another Time, Another Place: soul-weary in the wan light of the morning after, still dressed for the next soirée, the next swanky shindig, while knowing it's the only place he'll ever go in life, and it's no laughing matter.
Something in Dewaere — some ritual dance with demons, something unfulfilled and nagging — made him a vessel for these misfits and tortured loners; it's these roles, in light of his death, that have dominated perceptions of him as an actor. Beau Père would be his penultimate performance — not long after killing himself onscreen for Alain Jessua in 1982's Paradis pour tous, the thirty-five year-old Dewaere put a shotgun to his head in a Paris hotel room. Rémi isn't nearly that despondent, though; his sadness is too vital and assiduously cultivated a component of his wounded-Romeo come-on. He endures lashes to his pride as penance for having lied to his women that he has more talent than he does. When Martine, his wife, castigates him for not providing the material comforts a woman expects, he takes it with eyes cast downward as if he didn't deserve to look at her; he's a terrier caught pissing on Mommy's new rug. Certainly, he registers the slap to his face in her agreeing to pose for lingerie shots despite his objections. If he can't afford the cost of her body's upkeep, she's telling him, then he has no say over whom she shows it to; implicitly, it means her putting it back on the market to fetch the highest bidder she can for however long she has left to trade on her looks. He knows this, he hears that divorce bell pealing from just down the road, but he also knows he hasn't kept up his end of the bargain. (Charly, in his cynicism, understands Martine better: Rémi arrives to tell him she's died and Charly assumes she's dispatched her loverboy to hit him up for more money.)
I don't mean to give the impression that Beau Père is some dour, glacially-paced, cinema-of-misery piece about morose Frenchies doing degenerate things under the glaze of sumptuous cinematography. Au contraire, this is European film before its post-Nineties epidemic of muted-color, shakily-photographed anhedonia took hold, back when its arthouse darlings still mixed some honest-to-Voltaire humor and wit and spontaneity in with all the stylishly blasé tit-and-furry-beaver-flashings and Cahiers du cinéma-approved moral and narrative ambiguity. Godard and Catherine Breillat notwithstanding, Europe's maestros of celluloid still sought to commingle over life's absurdity with their audience (the cinema of "we") rather than lecture it or numb it with the pornography of shock value (the cinema of "you"). Blier's only interested in "shocks" as a means of widening our purview of human insanity as the cellophane stretched over mankind's toilet by a God who's been tippling at the Johnnie Walker and still has some prank calls to make — see Gérard Depardieu's anarchic lout in Going Places, goading Brigitte Fossey as a prim whore of a military wife into feeding Dewaere's character milk from her perfect breasts that resemble dollops of cream dribbled from the mouth of a seraph; see Carole Laure's existentially knackered wife in Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, finding her soulmate in neither Dewaere nor Depardieu as her husband but a thirteen year-old boy.
Beau Père is a deeply funny film, provided you meet it on its table-for-one-on-a-rainy-day wavelength. Rémi's a knowing parody of droopy-lidded Gallic sleaze in that opening monologue, with his Pepé Le Pew enunciations of "le T-bone STEAK," "le shrrrrimp cock-TELL" and "Art Tat-tooom," or later, as he picks up on a rhyming jag about his bum's lot and turns it into improvised lounge-lizard verse, dryly amused by all the songwriter's clichés he's living out. He balks at Marion's relentlessness by insisting that a mutual attraction doesn't mean they have to sleep together — why, there's plenty of women he's never made love to, he rather loftily informs her, somehow spinning missed chances into personal triumph and a testament to his self-restraint, in the process. (Probably the funniest bit: brooding at the piano, he explains to his boss that he's too sad to play; his boss wonders what difference it makes since all he ever plays is sad-ass music, anyway.) The humor hides a sting, though — it leads you in a circle back to the sorrow it came from. Rémi pushes Martine off to her lingerie assignment in their non-starter of a jalopy while grumbling about jerk photographers who only want to shoot her from the neck down, and there's a malevolent cosmic irony to the fact that he unwittingly sends her off to meet her destiny with that truck. (It becomes a semi-motif: Rémi pushes the women he loves out of his life, knowing they can do better.) He even keeps a picture of her taped over the bed, the way devout Catholics seeking admonishments against temptation used to hang crucifixes and paintings of Christ in their bedrooms: her eyes peer down as if to make certain that her spot next to him is never filled. All he has to remember her by are those sainted modeling portraits, which only preserve her bitchiness and loss of passion for him as daily reminders: anytime he needs to feel the prick of the cilice against his self-worth, he need only look up to find her still avoiding his gaze, still too regal for a vagabond like himself, still the disapproving mother, as uncommunicative as ever.
The timing of Marion's confession of lust, then, renders it an unconscious advertising of her qualities as caretaker and nurturer. As per woman's nature, Marion seeks to ensnare a worthy mate by foreshadowing the care she'll lavish on his progeny; she straddles the line between sex doll and earth mother, promoting herself as a better wife for Rémi than her jet set-minded narcissist of a mother ever was: giving him money (whereas her mother only took it), offering to nourish him with late-night omelets, encouraging his music, clamoring for his company, inquiring as to his health. Blier even literalizes the earth-mother conceit: our introduction to Marion in wide shot has her seemingly rising up from the ground itself as she ambles toward us. (Critics unafflicted by hot flashes over Besse's tender age were busy swooning over what they saw as the film's right-on endorsements of the new sexual era: David Denby, in his pan for New York Magazine, nonetheless saluted Blier for "celebrating heroic sexual will in a little girl." Heroic? Good God, man, don't blow a gasket.)
The film's visual design speaks to the impossibility of their remaining together — the two of them posed adversarially on opposite ends of the frame; a gulf of barren, mostly blank-walled space between them. Yet, it also binds them as soul twins of an ill-fated, hapless romanticism: Blier gives us pointedly similar shots of each character standing T-shirt-clad in a bedroom doorway, all lump-throated vulnerability as they wait to be noticed by the targets of their affections, their noses pressed to the glass of an existence that barely acknowledges them or, worse, can't even begin to deal with what's welled up inside of them. What Blier does here is akin to showing us pictures of a beautiful child that perished before it could grow. It's a matter of what could have been in regard to male-female relations: a taunting spirit brought to brief, flickering life by the affections of young women at their purest and most unspoiled. With Marion, Blier's shutter clicks just before a push from the wicked old stepmom of feminism — emboldened from a decade-plus of legitimacy when Beau Père was made — is sure to send the lass hurtling down a post-high school staircase of soul-deadening cock-hopping with its resultant crippling of her ability to truly bond with a man, a husband, a life partner. Never again will she be as open-hearted, as trusting, with a man as she is with Rémi here — and that's to her detriment more than that of any future paramours; it's as much a debit from Rémi's good-will savings account as it is from her father's.
Marion's sense of men is all tangled up in that daddy-lover duality. She remarks to Rémi that he's helped raise her while in the midst (and mist) of declaring her lovesickness. She shows up at Rémi's door with suitcase in hand after he's turned her over to Charly — as if pitting rival suitors against one another, she blithely informs him that she's snuck off under her father's nose, and that he should prepare for the inevitable scuffle with Charly when it's made clear which of the two men she's chosen. (Said scuffle occurs right on schedule: despite bruises that Marion tends to like some imperturbable mother-nurse, the two rather physically undistinguished combatants end up hurting the living room furniture more than each other.) Most intriguingly, as her coupling with Rémi winds down to its predetermined fizzling-out, she tells him she'll be seeking his replacement. (Or replacements, as she emphasizes.) He promises her they'll still have the occasional romp for old times' sake but she's wise enough to know finality when it's staring her forlornly in the face. Cut to her, two scenes later, buttoned up like a librarian in training at Charly's club. She's announcing, to his befuddlement turned victor's elation, that she's got her things in a taxi outside and she's moving back with him — if he'll have her, she says. The scene reads at first glance like a straying wife, after the implosion of her most torrid fling, returning for the sake of the kids to the put-upon lump of a husband who's nonetheless thanking God he's got her back.
Blier leaves it a heady tease as to what the implications are here — her deflated acceptance of Rémi having moved on to an older woman reminiscent of her mother, her sudden adoption of sartorial chastity after a frequent state of half-dress around Rémi: both point one way. (Here, she's chastened from heartbreak; she's ready to grow up and play the model daughter.) Pointing the opposite way: her easy acquaintance with blurring appropriate boundaries, her cool resort to hanky-panky with other men so as to torture Rémi. Bowing to his conscience — rattled, really, by fears of being branded a pervert and losing his pass to conventional society — Rémi had implored Marion to date boys her own age. Yet, when she responded by partying and making out like a typical teenager, he reacted like a comically uptight dad and flew into fits of womanish pique, denying Marion sex like some hausfrau punishing her husband for having flirted with a shopgirl half her age. Marion assured him that her nether regions remained his exclusive property; his encounter with a boy leaving her room at night, followed by the sight of her smirking with her shirt halfway undone, suggested quite another story. As did her dancing with boys at a party for which he'd been hired to provide the music. As Rémi bore the indignity of his playing being cut off by a blast of disco from the turntable, then sat there, forgotten by all but one of the kids' mothers (who complimented his "magic touch"), Marion was busy flaunting her adaptability to their new arrangement. She enjoyed herself — fully lost herself in being a kid — as if he weren't there. When she saw him leaving, she gave him the quick kiss on the cheek that he'd established as their cover in front of others, then she returned to dancing, rousing him from afar with her moony-eyed, just-between-us smile while her physical self was immediately accessible to the boy she was with. Rémi reneged on his hands-off-Marion pledge when she got home that night; Salome, as usual, got her man.
Blier links Marion's turn of the screw in this scene with her crawling back to Charly. The peppy Eurodisco number she dances to while pushing Rémi's buttons plays again in Charly's club as she wades like an apprehensive Alice through the red-lit adult Wonderland of facile grasps at connection and jaded, easy sex. She finds her father at the center of it all: he's fully ensconced, no mere spectator but a drained satyr who's so at home here, in the smoke and the banal conversations shouted over robotic music, he may as well be in an easy chair. (We never see Charly in his actual home, only here at his club or nipping at the heels of our forbidden bedfellows.) The song's lyrics, chirped by session vocalists over a correspondingly anonymous soft-funk throb, reduce human chemistry to no more than a "hook-up" based off a single look — portending, perhaps, Marion's own Charly-like benumbment and retreat from emotional engagement, post-Rémi.
And this is the backdrop Blier chooses for his father-daughter reunion with the daughter sitting stiffly next to her father, looking like a girl who's about to do something she knows she won't enjoy, with the father trying to read his daughter's intentions and recalling for us the look he wore when he accepted her stepfather's denial of impropriety while knowing the truth, anyway. Charly's suspicions about the two of them had been confirmed after he'd caught them in a lie and then spied their embrace through the window of their flat. He'd asked them point-blank if they were sleeping together and, naturally, Rémi erupted with the desired measure of righteous indignation. Yet, you got the feeling that Charly, as he left their makeshift abode like a man with new ideas in his head, was more intrigued than angered by what was going on. (He'd already proposed his ménage à trois: the idea, glumly received by Rémi and Marion, that the three of them live together.) Is Charly now entertaining the seduction of Marion as a means of possibly — finally — one-upping Rémi, of cuckolding the cuckold? Is incest, for Charly, a way of reclaiming the upper hand he'd lost as all-around protector and director and template-setter, of nursing back from devastation what Rémi the deadbeat dad has left half-formed and abandoned to fate in his frightened rejection of the illegitimate romance he's spawned?
And what of Marion? On his 1980 album, Scary Monsters, the late, great David Bowie included "Because You're Young," perhaps his most emotionally evocative number, an achingly-crooned paean to realizing that sometimes, as the old maxim has it, if one does love someone then it's best to let them go. Its chorus assumes the voice of someone singing to youth. But, as Marion represented the older half of her and Rémi, it captures brilliantly the desolate little girl of her final scene: the naïf who'd sealed her heart's doom by bringing Rémi into the orbit of the woman who'd go on to replace her, the hope-sick optimist who'd clutched to her tiny bosom a vision of the day when she'd be old enough for Rémi to no longer feel ashamed of being with her, when Rémi could greet her in public with something more than a chaste fatherly peck. It sketches a Marion watching the adolescent lothario who made her imagine forever as he recedes into the past:
Is Marion's humble-footed slog back to Charly the disco dance that she hopes will re-ignite Rémi's sense of ownership over her? Is she so addicted to what Rémi's awakened in her that she aims to refashion her relationship with Charly according to the template established by her rake of a stepdaddy? Blier hips us to the secret of life: we're all essentially someone else's replacement or doppelgänger — re-enactors of others' yearnings; third-rate community-theater hopefuls in the staged dramas of our lovers' lives, expected to fill the shoes of the Oliviers and Brandos who played our roles before us. Rémi melts into the arms of his new Martine after taking his final longing look at a portrait of the real thing. His new love, a graceful concert pianist whose mastery embarrasses him into retirement, is waiting naked in bed for him, à la Marion: sheets pulled up over her breasts like a present for him to unwrap. The cycle repeats itself: Rémi the ne'er-do-well has once again latched onto a woman more accomplished than himself; the film begins again, but now much further back into Marion's childhood, as the woman's daughter, no more than four or five years of age, totters up to Blier's bedroom doorway of ill-fated romanticism like Marion making her way through Charly's club.Because you're young
You'll meet a stranger some night
Because you're young
What could be nicer for you?
And it makes me sad
So I'll dance my life away
A million dreams
A million scars
The girl watches her mother and Rémi make love, her eyes as impossibly huge and inquisitive as Marion's as she confronts for the first time that presence, that amorphous presence, that beckons her toward life's most intoxicating discovery, that awakens in her a curiosity she's never before felt: the tingle in her little mind's loins that forecasts the death wish of her innocence. We can't miss what Blier's telling us — he over-emphasizes the moment with a triple jump cut/dolly-in flourish that distills the core of his narrative into her blank slate of a face, her unblinking eyes. It's a visual paraphrasing of that famous, apocryphal quote about shaping children's minds, and it says in plain French: give a man a girl before she's seven and she's his for life. Humbert Humbert, eat your heart out.
©2016 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic