Louis Malle may have in mind some of Jean Renoir's grand farces as his model for "May Fools," opening today at the Charles. Like Renoir's great "Rules of the Game," Malle attempts to dissect a whole civilization through a crisis in a very small set.
The set, in this case, is a haute bourgeoisie family reunited at the death of Mama -- to pay respect to the dear, nurturing woman, to re-establish those wonderful "Avalon"-style family ties and also to divvy up the loot. Meanwhile, in the background, France is going through one of its periodic cataclysms of reinvention -- it's May 1968,and Danny Cohen-Bendit is leading the Red students though the streets of Paris, threatening the very foundations of the Republic -- and also having lots of sex.
It is the conceit of "May Fools" that everybody's a fool -- it sees through everything, which of course means it believes in nothing. The greedy, grasping bourgeoisie is just as pitiful as the bland, silly revolutionary issuing bromides as if they're nuggets of wisdom. This social nihilism makes for an entertaining but somewhat empty film.
Mother leaves behind two sons and the daughter of her deceased daughter. One of the sons, Milou (Michel Piccoli) is an overgrown lout who's never left home and has no skills; his daughter Camille (Miou-Miou) is the shrewish, materialistic wife of a doctor, who uses a few quiet minutes to steal grandma's ring. The other brother, George (Michel Duchaussoy), is a self-deluding failed journalist with a perpetually horny English wife; the granddaughter, Clair (Dominique Blanq), is gay, but her ballerina lover keeps coming on to the journalist's son, who's a self-styled "revolutionary" home from the wars.
What happens over the long weekend at the family's estate is the usual bickering, bed-switching, and celebration of greed, made more bizarre by the national strike which means that the cemeteries have closed. Thus, Mama presides in chalky solemnity over the reading of her own will, where all parties act swinishly.
Through the grasping, only one character displays any dignity. That's old Paul (Hubert Saint-Macary), who has no illusions and no expectations; he simply does his job, which is to dig madame's grave.
The movie somewhat loses its way in the last few minutes, where the comedy of manners turns into a Nutty Jerry movie, with the whole tribe taking to the hills to flee the revolution. It's silly, and doesn't match up with the acidic tone of what's gone before.
Starring Miou-Miou and Michel Piccoli
Directed by Louis Malle
Released by Orion Classics