Friday, October 7, 2016

Going Places (1974)

          In some ways, the loathsome protagonists in French director Bertrand Blier’s gonzo dramedy Going Places are cousins to the madman played by Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange (1971). Like McDowell’s character Alex, the hedonists in Going Places move through the world on pure instinct, stealing anything they want, destroying property when the mood strikes them, and using women as unfeeling receptacles for their hateful lusts. Yet while Alex occupies a world of consequences, the buddies in Going Places roam free, so it’s difficult to understand what sort of statement Blier, who adapted the movie from his own novel, wanted to make. Similarly, it’s tough to accept the notion that Going Places elevated Gérard Depardieu to star status. He’s extraordinarily loose and naturalistic in Going Places, so it’s not as if the film fails to showcase his talents. The question is why audiences responded to such a deeply unsympathetic character. De gustibus non est disputandum.
          Jean-Claude (Depardieu) and Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere) travel through France looking for adventures, sex, and thrills, usually making their way from one place to the next by robbing pedestrians or stealing unattended vehicles. One night, while burglarizing a shop that belongs to a pimp, they kidnap a prostitute named Marie-Ange (Miou-Miou). During the crime, Pierrot gets shot in the testicle, though he later rallies his energy to rape Marie-Ange. Afterward, he complains that she’s sexually unresponsive. Inexplicably, she finds the abuse endearing, so before the boys release her, she obliges their request to “touch her ass hairs” for luck. And this is only the first half-hour of the picture, which gets more depraved with each passing moment. In one scene, the degenerates pay a sexy young mother to let them suck her breasts for milk, and in another, Jean-Claude rapes Pierrot because, they, that’s what friends are for. Following a strange and tragic episode with a recently paroled criminal, played by the great Jeanne Moreau in an affront to her cinematic dignity, the boys reconnect with Marie-Ange, since they want to provide her as a sexual plaything for a young man of their acquaintance. Oh, and at some point the lads kindly deflower a virgin, played by Isabelle Huppert in an early role, and, naturally, she thanks them for the courtesy.
          In nearly any other movie, characters behaving this way would be portrayed as sociopaths, but given the lightness of touch he applies to his storytelling, Blier seems determined to portray his vile protagonists as playful anarchists. While it’s dangerous to view Going Places through the narrow prism of conventional American morality, whatever that phrase means, the sheer amount of damage inflicted by the men in Going Places is shocking, so the movie begs for contexualization.
          Setting aside larger questions, the film has virtues that surpass its bizarre narrative. Some of the performances are lively, while others, including Moreau’s, are intriguingly stylized. Peppy jazz-guitar musical interludes by Stéphane Grappelli add bounce, particularly when coupled with Blier’s technique of using scene transitions to create visual punchlines. Furthermore, cinematographer Bruno Nuytten’s lovingly crafted images exude warmth. It’s possible there’s a provocative satire buried somewhere inside Going Places, and the film unquestionably skewers the cosmic joke known as the male animal. (The original French title translates to The Testicles.) Yet even though Going Places is weirdly compelling thanks to jaunty pacing and provocative events, it’s nauseating to watch two hours of men cheerfully abusing women. Make what you will of the fact that Depardieu, notorious in real life for boorish behavior, later made seven more movies with Blier.

Going Places: FREAKY


Peter L. Winkler said...

Trump would probably love this film.

By Peter Hanson said...

You speak the truth, sir.