I watched ‘Les Valseuses‘ the other day. It was not the first film featuring Gérard Depardieu, but it was the one that brought him to fame.
The film follows two ‘rogues’ from ‘les banlieus‘, Jean-Claude (Depardieu) and Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere) as they explore their world. They are thoroughly unlikeable characters, sexual harassment is a past-time for them – and I found that certain scenes were repellent, not through their (bad) behaviour, but through the responses of others. For example, the mother who is harassed on the train comes to enjoy the attention very rapidly. Miou-Miou’s behaviour (Marie-Ange) is pretty unbelievable, but then, she is portrayed as someone who has been in an abusive relationship, and as hard as it is to fathom, people do move between relationships like this.
There are instances where Jean-Claude and Pierrot’s exploits become amusing, the cuts to the bicycle chase as they run away, for example – and there are sequences which are poignant. For example, the story with Jeanne Pirolle (Jeanne Moreau) has a beauty and a tragedy about it (even though the initial motivation is sordid) – that the men get involved with Jacques Pirolle (Jacques Chailleux) speaks to them becoming less unlikeable as the film moves on.
Though the film has a very misogynistic attitude to women (though Jeanne is treated well by Jean-Claude and Pierrot, albeit with ulterior motive). The men are portrayed as weak – the film was made in the decades following the turbulence of the 1960s, at the end of the post-war economic boom for France. Unemployment was on the rise. Jean-Claude and Pierrot are representing the no-hope, no-prospects atmosphere of the age. Pierrot in particular is emasculated by an early incident in the film which perhaps partially explains, though doesn’t excuse, some of their despicable behaviour. Miou-Miou’s ‘responses’ to both Pierrot and Jean-Claude extend this, and when Jacques does satisfy her, he recounting of the experience doesn’t do Jacques any favours.
There are moments in the film which were amusing, but I found the characters and morality of the film repugnant. All the more so because at moments there was a danger of sympathising with them, until you remembered what they’d done up to that point. This repulsion was a new experience for me, I can watch films where dark things happen, and nasty people do them. I can watch films with a dark ending (rare as they are) – but there was something about this film that prevented an appreciation on that level. It’s a film that was interesting to watch, but not one that I would want to see again for entertainment.
The imdb summary puts it well:
Two whimsical, aimless thugs harass and assault women, steal, murder, and alternately charm, fight, or sprint their way out of trouble. They take whatever the bourgeois characters value: whether it’s cars, peace of mind, or daughters. Marie-Ange, a jaded, passive hairdresser, joins them as lover, cook, and mother confessor. She’s on her own search for seemingly unattainable sexual pleasure.