What’s the difference between a big right-wing jerk and a big left-wing jerk? When the left-wing guy goes to the bathroom and smears the bowl, he brushes it off right away. Right-wing guy just leaves it there, he’s got people cleaning his shit up after him. A woman, generally. Poor. Tired. Foreign. Léonce (Philippe Noiret) has someone scrubbing his toilet for him but still considers himself left-wing. He’s got a maid, but he feels bad about it, that shows he’s a compassionate guy, right?
His maid is Nacita (Farida Rahouadj), a 28 year old woman from Maghreb with two young kids and a no-good husband who drinks all her money and beats her up for thanks. She spends every afternoon working for Léonce and in the mornings she goes to the apartment of another old white guy with money (Michel Bouquet), but she doesn’t have to do anything. The old dude just likes to be with her, to watch her sleep, maybe cop a feel…
One Sunday evening, as Léonce is having dinner with his sexy mistress (Anne Saurez) and his ambiguously gay son (Jérôme Hardelay), he’s visitor-Qed by the old guy, who intends to tell him all about what he’s been doing with their mutual maid. Léonce would like to look down on this dirty old man bothering him at his home, but he can’t deny he’s had lascivious thoughts about Nacita. Yet these thoughts aren’t so much sexual as manifestations of liberal guilt. He wants to bone the maid not for the sake of boning, but for her good, to make her feel like a woman again. Riiiiight.
This unusual three-way keeps developing in all sorts of way, from the most thoughtful to the most absurd, from the silly to the provocative. This mostly comes through a long conversation between the two elderly fellows. Writer-director Bertrand Blier is adapting his own play for the screen here and it still feels a bit staged and theatrical, despite interesting flights of visual whimsy.
The film touches upon all the big universal themes: Life, Love, Death… It’s also oddly concerned with bowel movements and, of course, boning the maid. Blier tackles all this in an irreverent manner, but the subtext can be deadly serious. Noiret and Bouquet’s characters should be crushed by the weight of the years, exhausted, frail, maybe a bit wiser, but here they are leering at Nacita like two horny teenagers. These guys refuse to die, they’re saying “Fuck Death” and putting it into practice, oh so literally!
“Les côtelettes” is not an entirely successful picture. It’s rather messy, taking all sorts of tangents and juggling tones to sometimes disconcerting effect. It’s particularly strange how between bouts of goofiness, the film takes a harsh look at racial tensions in contemporary France. Still, one thing you can’t accuse this movie of being is dull. I’m not sure how much I “enjoyed” it, but it’s certainly thought-provoking and memorable.