This is one of those films that I’ve often heard mentioned, but never knew anything about, other than it had Marlon Brando wearing a long camel coat, and some degree of nudity. This is true on both counts, though ‘some’ could be something of an understatement, as barely a scene goes by without flesh being exposed, love being made or pleasure being administered by a character to themselves.
Our leads are Paul (Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider, at the time a somewhat inexperienced actress). After several near-meetings and glimpses on the street and in a bar, she goes to rent an apartment that he has already entered. Without knowing one another’s names, or anything else, the two engage in a burst of passionate, impromptu sex, before embarking on a relationship centred around the apartment, despite troubles in their personal lives and an obvious age gap of at least twenty years.
The most annoying thing about this film is the dialogue, specifically Brando’s. He’s not known for his eloquence with enunciation, and here he excels himself with his mumbling. If it weren’t for the subtitles in some of his earlier scenes, I wouldn’t have known he was talking at all, and my constant need to keep readjusting the volume become tiresome after only a short while, and downright infuriating at the end, for almost everyone else speaks at a normal level (though Schneider has a go at mumbling too) and the score is at an average volume, but I had no desire to annoy my neighbours by keeping the sound at a raised level. This made for a very unpleasant viewing experience.
The script is scarred with hideous puns and double entendres (“What’s that for?” “Your happiness, and my hap-penis”) as well as enough crudity and sex scenes to make anyone blush. The scene where Paul rubs butter into Jeanne’s anus before raping her from behind is beyond uncomfortable (especially for her), as is the fact that she stays after the deed is done. Later, he seduces her by saying that he wants to get a pig, have the pig fuck her and vomit on her, then she eats the vomit and the pig dies whilst fucking her. I have no idea what that means, nor do I have any desire to, and in fact I’d have been happier had that been part of the dialogue I hadn’t heard.
The relationship between the leads is interesting, as it provides something segregated from their everyday, troubled lives, but it seems to bring about more problems than it solves. Schneider is shot attractively – the camera all but making love to her exposed thigh in an early shot in a phone booth – and the colour palette is full of sumptuous browns and ochres. Jeanne’s subplot involving her boyfriend making a semi-documentary film about their relationship was distracting and irritatingly confusing.
I wasn’t sure what I’d make of this film before going in, and I’m only slightly more sure of what happened during it now that it’s thankfully over. If Brando, who admittedly is excellent, hadn’t been in the film I doubt it’d be on the List, and the audio problems, lack of a fully structured plot and unnecessary diversions make this more annoying than entertaining.
Choose life 4/10