Idiosyncratic French director Bertrand Blier reteamed with Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, the stars of his controversial Going Places (1976), for Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, another peculiar film about twisted psychosexual dynamics. Although Get Out Your Handkerchiefs isn’t as overtly cruel as Going Places, which was infused with sexual violence, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs betrays just as troubling an attitude toward women. To be fair, the film is skillfully made from a technical perspective, with attributes including elegantly naturalistic photography, and Blier’s script has a few fleeting moments of near-perfect satire. Overall, however, the picture is bogus and odd, more a literary flight of fancy than an examination of recognizable human emotions. That being said, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is compelling precisely because of its strangeness—the movie travels to so many unconventional places that it’s impossible not become curious where it’s going next. As to what it all means, and whether the journey is worth taking—well, that’s a call best left to individual viewers, because those who embrace the picture as a cerebral meditation are likely to find Get Out Your Handkerchiefs more rewarding than those who want a flesh-and-blood story about actual human beings.
The opening sequence sets the off-kilter mood. Sitting in a crowded restaurant, exasperated Raoul (Depardieu) says he wants to help his depressed wife, Solange (Carole Laure), get out of her funk by granting permission to take a lover. He then tries to recruit Stéphane (Dewaere), a diner at a neighboring table, for the aforementioned stud service. This leads to a bizarre comedy-of-errors argument because each character reacts unexpectedly to accusations and questions. The comic notion is that everyone in Get Out Your Handkerchief overshares—except for the mysterious and withholding Solange—so each conversation goes from zero to intimate in record time, resulting in a mixture of bewilderment and connectivity. From a writing perspective, Blier walks a high wire throughout the entire film, but because Get Out Your Handkerchiefs takes place outside normal reality, it’s hard to say whether he keeps his balance. The movie is never believable, but it’s also never boring. Eventually, Raoul, Solange, and Stéphane form an extended family of sorts, because Solange alternates between nights with Raoul and nights with Stéphane. Things get even weirder when Stéphane takes a summer job as a camp counselor, because Solange becomes involved with a third lover, 13-year-old camper Christian (Riton Liebman).
Through it all, Solange remains an enigma. One of Blier’s central jokes seems to be that men are incapable of understanding women—which means that Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is either sly or stunningly sexist or both. Every so often, the movie “works” in a conventional sense, albeit with a nasty edge. In one scene, Raoul slaps Solange, causing her to cry, so Stéphane pulls a handkerchief from his pocket—but instead of drying Solange’s tears, he dabs sweat off Raoul’s forehead. It’s a vicious barb, men valuing their emotional lives while ignoring those of women, but it’s a direct hit nonetheless. Still, for everything that impresses about Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, there are a dozen troubling elements. The abuse. The objectification of Laure, who is frequently naked. The pedophilia of the Christian subplot. Given the film’s provocative aspects, it’s a wonder that Get Out Your Handkerchiefs found an audience, and it’s downright astonishing the picture won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 1978.
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs: FUNKY