The Closet (15)
Le Placard is a light as a feather French farce, gently lampooning homophobia and political correctness. It is typical of its writer-director, Francis Veber, a number of whose films have been remade by Hollywood. Hugely successful at the French box office, its main interest lay in having several of the top actors in France play against type. So Daniel Auteuil plays the rather wet, but harmless, Francois Pignon, an accountant in a condom factory. Auteil has played hard-nosed cops in his time and you may remember him more recently in Michael Hanecke’s art house hit, Caché. Gérard Depardieu, usually the macho hero, is a fellow office worker, Santini, the rugby playing homophobic butt of most of the jokes as he tries clumsily to find his sensitive side and befriend another man.
The comic plot turns on sexual imposture, a tradition going back several centuries, and at least as far as Shakespeare’s comedies, but it will remind you most of ‘La Cage aux Folles’. In that film a gay man pretends to be straight; here a straight man pretends to be gay to try to keep his job. As Pignon puts it ‘I am coming out of a closet I was never in’. Divorced two years ago by his wife, who continues to treat him with disdain, and despised by his son, only his job is helping him keep things together. When that is threatened, desperate measures are called for. He is befriended by a neighbour, Belone (François Aumont) who tells him he is even lonelier than he is. Belone comes up with a scheme that will be a kind of late revenge for the humiliations that he, a homosexual, suffered when he was young.
In La Cage aux Folles the comedy is deepened and made subversive because a man who is camp to his core trying to be macho highlights how pompously, outrageously full of yourself you have to be sometimes to pass for a ‘normal’ man. This isn’t as good a film, nor as good as ‘Some Like it Hot’, in which, bewitched by Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon cross-dresses, and finding it might be a pleasure to be a woman, starts to lose his gender bearings. Nor as good as, a personal favourite, ‘I married a GI War Bride’ in which Cary Grant (a Hollywood hero who could never seem to stay happily married) enjoys himself hugely playing the bride.
The Closet rather domesticates the subversiveness of this tradition of films but it is a funny film that contains some great visual jokes and, in the best tradition of farce, a feeling that the distinguished cast thoroughly enjoyed making it.
Francis Veber | France | 2001 | 84 minutes | 15