Synopsis: Georges Feydeau’s door-slamming 1894 farce, ‘Un fil a la patte’ (usually translated as ‘A Fly in the Ointment’), receives fleet screen treatment from veteran director Michel Deville. The star-laden outing retains the integrity of the material’s stage origins, while investing it with a flurry of cinematic energy. In the circles of Parisian high society, caddish lothario Bois d’Enghein (Charles Berling) is about to wed Viviane Duverger (Sara Forestier), the daughter of a wealthy baroness (Dominique Blanc). Reports of their impending union are all over the morning papers, with the marriage contract due to be signed later that afternoon. There’s only one small hitch: Bois d’Enghein has yet to break the news to his longtime lover, Lucette (Emmanuelle Beart), who happens to be one of Paris’ most celebrated divas. And every time he tries to tell her – well, something manages to get in the way. A glorious madcap costume romp.
‘Un fil à la patte’ is a sexy, but PG, romantic farce. It’s set in France approximately a century ago and it revolves around two characters: Lucette and Edouard de Bois d’Enghein. She is a free-loving, popular singer and he is one of her lovers – a poor schlep who, unbeknownst to Lucette, is about to marry into a wealthy family.
The comedy revolves around the thinly-veiled contempt that many characters have for each other and their many deceits. The repartee is quite rich, but it flew by far too quickly-paced for me to catch everything – even with the subtitles on, I wasn’t able to grasp a good chunk of it.
As well, some anachronisms were purposely inserted in this period piece for effect, and there was even the breaking of the fourth wall (the most riotous of them being the butler’s apology to the audience when he bumps into the camera’s lens). Evidently, this film was not meant to be taken too seriously.
And yet the story, at its core, is quite good. I’m astounded at how libertine the values are, what with Lucette having a child with one man out of wedlock, having a lover, considering another… and everyone being aware and accepting of it. There’s obviously also no concern about the morality of sex here.
Although ‘Un fil à la patte’ is a sex comedy of sorts, it’s not especially explicit. It is naughty, and some might find it sexy I suppose, but most of the pleasures are played out for laughs, not for titillation. I’m not sure that it would be appropriate for youngsters, but maybe your grandmother might get a kick out of it. Maybe.
The cast was generally good, but many overplayed their lines – no doubt due to the nature of the comedy, which is meant to be loud, fast and brash. Having said this, there is so much chewing of the scenery that Julie Depardieu looked good in comparison – which is saying quite a lot in light of her irritating performance in ‘Toi et moi’.
Emmanuelle Béart was alright, I suppose. I think that what hit me the most about her here is just how badly she’s aged; while she was adorable in her early years (Manon des sources, La belle noiseuse), she has since completely lost that freshness. Granted, she was 42 by the time this film was made, but 42 isn’t that old. She no longer looks healthy, natural (the boob job was a bad move, for one… ), so I don’t get the appeal anymore.
But that’s only a distraction in what is arguably a successful presentation. ‘Un fil à la patte’ will likely only appeal to a limited audience, the art house crowd, and only a handful will thoroughly appreciate it, but it’s a good farce and it makes sure to hit its marks skilfully and swiftly; it doesn’t over-stay its welcome and it offers enough levity to warrant consideration.