The selection of Bertrand Blier films for North American viewers is a paltry lot, with only about a quarter of his filmography available in some form of home video. And the bulk of that select few appears to have more to do with the presence of big name European stars than any abiding love for the Bertrand Blier Experience. Frankly, it’s an experience that’s hard to love. The few Blier films this reviewer has seen generally drip with a gooey misogyny, a fact his defenders passionately ignore. He may attempt to tart up his strategy with faint allusions to class struggle or, on occasion, have his female protagonists briefly gain a tactical advantage, but it’s clear his heart isn’t in it. To Blier, females are the superior gender because they have boobs and vaginas and occasionally whip up a fabulous Salade Niçoise.
Going Places, Blier’s chauvinistic opus from 1974, is now available in a new hi-def burn from Kino Classics, and this guiltily entertaining tale of wretched scumbaggery has never looked better. Young Gerard Depardieu, lean and mean and cutting a fine figure in denim bell bottoms, stars as Jean-Claude who, along with buddy Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere) comprise a duo of thuggish, hedonistic drifters. The film details their impulsive misadventures throughout France, including purse snatching, kidnapping, attempted rape and innumerable car thefts. One could describe the film as an amalgam of Godard’s Weekend with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Except Blier has none of Godard’s wit and his characters have none of the charm of George Roy Hill’s good-natured desperados.
That’s not to say that Jean-Claude and Pierrot lack any redeeming qualities, although in the early going viewers will wish someone would, to quote Withnail, take the bastard-axe to them. Blier is quick and merciless in his establishment of the guys as thorough faiseurs diaboliques. In the opening scene, he shows them groping a terrified and defenseless middle aged woman before stealing her purse. This infuriating business is followed by another round of near rape when the boys assault a young mother on a train; her babe-in-arms a mere impediment as they unbutton her blouse. In each of these encounters, Blier inserts a close-up of the victim with her face registering a momentary glimmer of arousal. His messaging is as foul as it is unsubtle: ya see, no really means yes, and women just love to be fondled by grimy punks.
The scales begin to even when Depardieu and Dewaere kidnap the lovely Marie-Ange (Miou-Miou) during yet another car theft. Marie-Ange (the character’s name is more of that wonderful Blier subtlety) proves to be a match for our hormonal miscreants, as she offers only token resistance to Jean-Claude and Pierrot’s forceful advances. Moreover, she’s darn near insatiable, leaving both men exhausted and gasping for air while she stares into the distance, bored and unimpressed. The undefilable, at least by these guys, Marie-Ange becomes a combination earth-mother and gun moll to our anti-heroes, and they often return to her tiny flat when the going gets tough in the thuggery business.
In this triangulated relationship, Blier successfully plays with differences of perception and sexual dynamics. When the trio is reunited at Marie-Ange’s, she gleefully announces, “I had my period!” to which the befuddled Depardieu responds with a quick slap across her face. One morning Marie-Ange leaves for work without the benefit of panties, prompting a strangely jealous reaction from Dewaere. Famously self-deprecating, Miou-Miou does an impressive job here, generating Going Places’ fleeting human interest while serving as a powerful narrative counterbalance. Depardieu’s deep reserve of raw energy propels the film, but Miou-Miou’s dreamy sexual introspection provides the rudder.
The fun and games officially end when Depardieu and Dewaere, trolling at the front gate of a women’s prison – yes, they are truly shameless – become involved with the newly released Jeanne (Jeanne Moreau), a faded beauty who uses the young men for what will turn out to be a tragic last roll in the hay. The trauma continues when her nebbish son Jacques (Jacques Chailleux) gives the boys much more than they bargained for: delivering Marie-Ange’s long awaited first orgasm while getting Jean-Claude and Pierrot into some deadly serious trouble.
But the siren call of a lone Citroën, begging to be swiped, leads the boys into one last bit of light hearted criminality. Watch for an impossibly young, freckle faced Isabelle Huppert as a teenage virgin willingly sacrificed to, apparently, the patron saint of car thieves. Blier’s festive crime spree ultimately fades to black down a twisty mountain road, lacking catharsis and having completed its mission of offending just about every possible sensibility.
As a piece of history, Going Places can be appreciated as one of the more entertaining last gasps of La Nouvelle Vague. The film is technically well executed, with plenty of delightful scenery and ultimately serves as a testament to the unpolished, but undeniable, on-screen charisma of young Gerard Depardieu. But be advised he and Patrick Dewaere engage in some thoroughly reprehensible behaviors, and getting past that will be impossible for some viewers; the turn-off will simply be too great. Going Places earns a recommendation, but that endorsement is heavily weighted toward fellow French cinema enthusiasts and history buffs. Frankly, for casual viewers, there are just too many wonderful examples of French cinema from the 60s and 70s to justify spending time with this relatively minor nihilist farce.