Les Valseuses

(1974)
   Film. Les Valseuses was directed by Bertrand Blier, who adapted the film from his own novel. It narrates the journeys of two troublemakers in their twenties, Jean-Claude (Gérard Depardieu) and Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere). After they chase a woman with their grocery cart and then harass her, the two steal a car to take a joy ride. Upon their return, the owner of the car flaunts his date, Marie-Ange (Miou-Miou), and shoots Pierrot in the testicle. The two then take the car, force a doctor to take care of Pierrot, steal the doctor's money, and run away from police by stealing bikes and cars or jumping on trains. Pierrot vows to tamper with the car to enact his revenge on the owner.
   The pair later breaks into a seaside vacation home during the off-season, where Jean-Claude washes and shampoos Pierrot. Jean-Claude tells Pierrot that he finds him desirable, but Pierrot refuses his advances. They reunite with Marie-Ange and subsequently charm a recently released prisoner named Jeanne (Jeanne Moreau). They lo-cate Jeanne's son, Jacques (Jacques Chailleux). Jean-Claude, Pierrot, and Marie-Ange later steal a car from a family and take the daughter Jacqueline (Isabelle Huppert) with them, at Jacqueline's request. They drive off in the stolen car, heading nowhere in particular. Later, it is suggested that they may be traveling in the very car that Pierrot had altered so that it would crash. Like the director Patrice Leconte, Blier collaborated with actors experienced in the café-théâtres of Paris, such as Dewaere, Miou-Miou, and Gérard Jugnot, who plays a small role in the film. Les Valseuses was the second most commercially successful French film in 1974, just after Just Jaeckin's soft-porn feature, Emmanuelle. Like the films of the Nouvelle Vague or New Wave that preceded it and the films of the cinéma du look afterward, Les Valseuses was a film targeted to youth in society. This is evident in its fast pace, its overt sexual content, and its antiestablishment narrative.
   Some of this film's material alarmed early reviewers, who found the film shocking and grotesque. Since then, many critics and scholars have found more depth to the film, frequently commenting on its questioning of gender roles, both male and female. Those critics who focus on Blier's representation of masculinity point to the relation-ship between the wounded, emasculated Pierrot, who insists on heterosexuality, and the overtly bisexual Jean-Claude. Much has also been written about the film's apparent misogyny, particularly in the first half of the film in which the two protagonists derive pleasure by insulting and harassing women.
   Blier's apologists counter that Marie-Ange refuses to play the role of the victim and forces the men to question their own masculinity. This reading, they argue, is supported by the sexual contact between Marie-Ange and the two protagonists, who fail to satisfy her sexually, although a fairly virginal Jacques has no trouble in this area. Furthermore, Blier clearly mocks his protagonists' overblown conceptions of their own masculinity, both through their failed sexual exploits and their disastrous imitations of film antiheroes. By extension, the entertainment the men glean at the expense of the women characters can also be viewed as a critique of their immaturity, though it is unclear whether the discomfort of the women is supposed to have a comic effect. In any case, Blier most likely intends to rattle his spectators and shake them into questioning received ideas and roles. For some, Les Valseuses was seen as a threat to conventional morals, and for others it is a commentary on post-May 1968 rebellious youth.
   Les Valseuses also invites comparisons to New Wave films, especially Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle (1960) and Pierrot le fou (1965) and François Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962). There are various differences between Blier's film and those of the New Wave however. Where New Wave films often center on problematic love relationships, in Les Valseuses there is no time to stop for love. Blier also focuses on the male couple, whereas the New Wave tends to focus on heterosexual, individualistic antiheroes and their relation-ships with women. The suicide of Jeanne, played by the New Wave icon Moreau, also seems to evoke the violent finale of the New Wave of the 1960s, and Moreau actually starred earlier in Truffaut's Jules and Jim.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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