A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

La Cage Aux Folles

December 2, 2010

La Cage Aux Folles

I first saw this movie when I was about twelve or thirteen years old while visiting my grandparents. I seem to recall that they actually owned a copy of the movie, probably a gift from my uncles the film makers. This would have been around 1985 or so – more than a decade before the American re-make was made, so at the time it was just some bizarre French film I had found in my grandparent’s collection. I distinctly recall being utterly confused by the entire film. It was so filled with a crazy flamboyance that was utterly alien to me. I think at the time I chalked it up to French people being exceptionally odd, because nothing in my experience at the time would indicate that anything like this existed in America.

As I watch this again tonight with our review of The Birdcage relatively fresh in my mind I am completely blown away by how astonishingly faithful the American re-make is to the original, and by how astonishingly ahead of we Americans the French are. To think that this movie was made almost twenty years before the 1996 Birdcage – it simply boggles the mind. Practically every memorable moment in the American film had its germination here in the French original. The butler with no shoes. The bowls with naked Greek boys. The lesson on how to be more butch with the toast and the John Wayne walk. (Though Robin Williams gets a better punchline for that scene.) Even the bit where the boy’s biological mother comments on his gay father’s hairy chest, a bit that I would have sworn was written for the extremely hairy Robin Williams, is directly out of this movie.

The plots of the two movies are identical. The son of a night club owner comes home to tell his father that he intends to get married. His fiance is the daughter of a conservative politician who becomes embroiled in a scandal when the president of his party dies in the arms of an underaged black prostitute. The night-club owning father and his son makes an attempt to appear like conservative people to make the proposed marriage more palatable to the girl’s parents. Everything goes hilariously wrong.

There are only a few minor tweaks. The butler in the French version is a flamboyant young black man, rather than a flamboyant young Guatemalan man. (Benny Luke, as Jacob, is every bit as wonderful a scene stealer as Hank Azaria as Agador. Both of them are utterly hilarious and impossible to look away from.) There’s a great moment in this French version where all the night-club employees burst in on the somber party upstairs to wish Renato and Albin a happy anniversary, traipse around the apartment singing, smiling and kissing everybody, then leave again. It’s a great culmination to the entire evening and a funny way to have the joyous life of the drag people contrasted with the dour and bleak lives of Andrea’s conservative parents.

I suppose that’s another contrast between the two films. Michel Galabru plays the conservative father Simon as a loud, angry blow-hard. His home is as bleak a place as you could imagine with its faded brown walls and stark puritan furniture. At one point his daughter starts to take pity on him and is about to confess about Laurent’s parents, but then Simon makes a point of humiliating a waiter in the restaurant they’re eating at and she thinks better of it. I think that Gene Hackman’s character Senator Keely is a more sympathetic fellow. Perhaps it’s that we backward folk in America are still unable to completely vilify our conservative politicians. Or maybe it’s that for the end of the movie to work the way it does in the American version you need to have some sympathy for Keely and want him to escape from the nightmare dinner politically unscathed.

I think that my enjoyment of this ribald and colorful tale is actually enhanced by my love of the re-make. It’s fun to see the original take on all these characters. It’s interesting to note what’s been altered and what, after eighteen years and on a whole other continent, was still just exactly as funny if left the same. I still have my youthful memories of being completely baffled by this alien world being portrayed on the screen, although I think I have a very different perspective on it now. (I blame the inescapable charm of RuPaul’s Drag Race – I’ll never be able to look at drag the same way now that I’ve fallen in love with it as a joyous art form. Can I get an Amen?) I admit that I’ve never seen the French sequels to this movie, which were never re-made for American audiences. Perhaps I should.

December 2, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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