Bertrand Blier  

Blier is a master of the absurd and always a fascinating, provocative and endlessly inventive French film-maker. He makes at least two types of movies: Absurd experiments where logic and reality are subservient to the theme of the movie, and character dramas that usually have to do with love, exploring the relationship between men and women through extreme, absurd or provocative situations such as loving a whore, loving an underage girl, not loving a woman due to her being too beautiful, and a man turning a straight man gay until he behaves like his girlfriend did. In most cases, he makes use of whatever he feels is necessary to explore the characters and themes, bending the narrative structure, reality, the dialogue, and sometimes even logic, converting the movie into a stagy demonstration, and taking matters to absurd extremes, shifting to something new when the old idea has run its course, thus constantly surprising and keeping the audience on its toes.

He often reduces both men and women to their basic or uncontrollable urges and drives, using stereotypes or archetypes as characters that talk aloud about what they are and what are truly thinking, musing aloud their whims, thoughts and fancies. Then he complicates matters in typical French style, having these absurd characters romanticize or philosophize over the state they are in. For this reason, the frequent accusations of misogyny are very unfair since he applies the same rules to both genders, with men often presented in even less flattering light than the women. For example, in Too Beautiful for You, amidst some poetic vulgarity about the needs of men, a stupid man finds his beautiful wife too fancy for him, and his plain secretary too unexciting, thus shooting himself in the foot. If anything, his movies explicitly demonstrate that he merely thinks women are confusing and impenetrable. The following are his most bizarre movies:


Buffet Froid (Cold Cuts)  
Superb black comedy and a tour-de-force of the absurd. This is about morbid fears, murder and cliches, an absurd world where people break out in compulsive violence as if they were being controlled, a place where everyone is sad and afraid but when death comes along, they shrug it off. A man finds his knife in a man's stomach who claims he killed him. A police inspector is morbidly afraid of string orchestras, murdering or jailing violinists, and arguing that murderers are OK because if you put them away, you'd be contaminating the innocents in jail. And thus, the movie is endlessly surprising, moving from one absurd hilarious scene to another, including a doctor who charges money for raping a patient, a man who sets up his own murder, and high-class torture by chamber orchestra.

Calmos (AKA Femmes Fatales)  
An incredible surreal comedy on the battle of the sexes that takes the idea of sexually-aggressive single-minded women chasing men who just want some food and peace and quiet, and turns it up to absurd extremes. It starts with two men with reason to be tired of sex, a pimp and a gynecologist, who just pick up (leaving a naked woman in stirrups scratching her genitals) and go to the country for some food, calm, worry-free cholesterol and guilt-free uncivilized male behaviour. Blier has some of the men behave like women on gender-reversal whims complaining about their husbands or their clitoris. This situation keeps growing more absurd throughout the movie, from the wives trying to bring back their husbands for some sex, to oblivious women riding men, a march of men who have had enough, female predators in a subway, a female military that uses a tank and guns to get their penises, a facility that forces a man to have sex with thousands of women using special medical procedures, and a giant vagina for a sublimely surreal and idyllic ending. Wickedly subversive and a fine companion piece to City of Women which offers absurd loud laughs for mature men who can sympathize with the general sentiment.

Of Some Interest

A light, borderline-surreal romp by Blier that explores the world of actors in their caricature form performed by the actors themselves. Many big names in French cinema like Depardieu, Arditi, Delon, Belmondo, etc. have fun with this concept, playing whimsical, strange roles according to the moment, making fun of themselves, insulting the others, and humorously having fun with their image as perceived by the public. Thus, they run around angry over not getting a jar of hot water, wander into Piccoli's house, pretending to be something or another, accusing his wife of infidelity, always assuming a camera is filming them, and so on, until the actor's police arrives threatening to shoot them down by machine gun parapet, and Blier makes fun of himself. An amusing experiment, but mostly for fans of French cinema that will get the in-jokes. Blier covered similar ground also in 'Dead Tired'.

Clink of Ice, The  
Blier tackles cancer with his arsenal of absurdism, black humor, inappropriate sex and light surrealism. A separated writer is visited in his villa by an annoying man who comes to stay. This man is his cancer. His maid has a thing for him, but has troubles of her own, and anyone who loves a person can see their cancer. Much black amusement is gotten by their interactions with cancer personified, his estranged ex-wife and son, as well as a young Russian gold-digger, adding to their drama. Blier takes his absurdist fantasy to its not-so-logical conclusion, but who will get the last word? An amusing romp that only Blier could create, but not as rich as his earlier works.

Heavy Duty  
Blier does meta-fiction as an existential black comedy, French style. And what is more appropriate for an existential French comedy than absurdism. The characters in this film are characters in a script, except that some of them didn't get their script, so they wander around aimlessly in search of a back-story, or, *gasp*, they improvise. Problem is, even the ones with a script are not very happy with the meaningless way their lives are being written. Random murders assigned to them are evaluated in terms of satisfaction even while they feel strangely compelled to perform them. Things get even worse when they find out their own screen-writers have even bigger problems. Some characters find their own back-story which they undervalue even while the writers envy them. Even a death as an ending for a character isn't satisfying, causing much existential musing over their own death. And suicide is committed just because men commit suicide and that's that. A fun movie only Blier could make, although it does lose steam two-thirds of the way through and leaves with a muddled twist ending... unless I am missing something.

Merci la Vie  
Probably Blier's most difficult film. The movie seems to be changing its mind about its theme all the time, ultimately whimsical and intriguingly bizarre, even inserting a scene of an angry director who complains about wanting to stand out instead of the actor, as if Blier were taking everything apart to force the audience to notice him and what he is doing with the film. In some ways, it's like Blier filming a Godard movie. Blier also makes his characters subtly aware of the movie they are in and includes a film within the film, sometimes making the outer narrative part of the inner film and vice versa. Camille is a young, angry girl with issues, who has unclear complexes over her dad, and who is confused about her mom's role. She befriends Joelle who is probably not a real person, and, as portrayed in this movie, seems to be an archetype. But what kind of archetype both hates and loves men, wants to give them affection only to get hit and mistreated, seems to be a black hole of needs and desires, and gives them free sex only to infect them with an STD? Is it a misogynist archetype? Does she represent desires that end up diseasing humankind? A symbol of sex that should be beautiful but has been twisted by society and nature? The characters shift between many periods, sometimes talking about creating life but then life seems to take over and make things miserable in an ultimately dark and pessimistic statement? Amongst the many scenes, there's Camille going back before she was born trying to convince her dad to impregnate her mom, Joelle and Camille playing a strange sadistic/seduction game by lighting bombs under a guy, Depardieu as a doctor that exploits the spread of her disease, Nazi actors out of a film becoming real, and one about inserting the dad's eyeball into Joelle's genitalia (your guess is as good as mine on that one).

Our Story (AKA Separate Rooms)  
Blier uses surreal dream-logic to explore a marriage relationship gone sour. Robert is a depressed man on a train pondering over the love of his life while drinking heavily. His mind goes into a fugue of nostalgia, passion, depression, and life stories, often cliched, wondering about his love, her fidelity, and his feelings for her. The movie travels with him as a woman gets on a train for a fling, he follows her, always drinking and showing a strange obsession for sitting on his chair and waiting for her. The movie gets more and more bizarre as he tries to work out some sort of arrangement with this woman, with groups of people suddenly appearing and accumulating into a crowd, her friends, his friends, the neighbours, the neighbours' neighbours. He gets into fights, breakups, people come back, they start playing sexual musical chairs, sleeping with each other's wives, the woman is presented as a well known slut one minute and as a good, lovable, romanticized woman the next, he finds the ultimate room that allows him unlimited beers and comfort to drink them, and the same woman starts to appear in different roles and places, all to comical, absurd and surreal effect as his mind tries to figure out how to deal with his marriage. One of Blier's best, but flawed by a lack of depth.

Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil  
Blier's social commentary on the slums/tenements is not so much a commentary but an absurd and unique way to present slum stereotypes. Characters in this movie talk to each other about what they are going to do with the rest of their life, what their real intentions are and what they will become instead of actually acting it out. Victorine is acted by Anouk Grinberg in various stages of her life, the same actress acting as a child, teenager or woman as the movie jumps between the different periods, always desperately looking for happiness and affection in a world full of violence, nastiness or disappointment. Further logic is thrown out as dead characters (such as a criminal first teenage crush) come back to life as the archetype symbols that they are in this movie of slum cliches. Aggressive gangs constantly threaten to rape schoolteachers and teenage girls like an unstoppable force of nature, there's a white liberal stereotype who welcomes thieves into his house, and another right-wing stereotype who makes a propaganda show out of the thief before shooting him, Mastroianni is the drunk father, there's an insane overbearing mother, and a big black woman brings unruly dead children back to life by giving them love through her naked bosom. Blier is interesting as always and the movie has some heartfelt moments, but this is too steeped in stereotypes to be insightful.


Côtelettes, Les  
Talky stage comedy converted into an absurd movie by Blier. A liberal bourgeois old man eating his dinner is interrupted by an angry right-wing old man who decided to 'piss him off'. He first attacks his son for being gay, and they both convince the young man to take his father's mistress into the bedroom. They debate, discuss and argue various issues in rapid comical fashion, but soon the real issue pops up: The poor Arab maid with an abusive husband. Turns out the rightist has been having sex with her while the maid has desires for the liberal, each of them seeing her in different ways that suit their purposes. Matters becomes more absurd when her Arab husband comes to sell them his wife, and death shows up as a bitter old woman in need of affection and sex. When she threatens to take someone's soul due to neglected cancer, there is only one solution left for the dirty old men... Still unconventional, very slightly amusing, but mostly tedious farce by Blier.

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