Saturday, February 2, 2008
Devoured by a Shark in a Phone Booth
There’s a girl in my building who I’ve known off and on for several years now. I’ll go through periods of not talking to her at all but then I’ll see her and have a long, intimate conversation that seems to go on for hours. Did I mention that she’s mind-bogglingly beautiful? And intelligent as well, which always helps the conversation. But my point is that she’s this gorgeous girl who lives in my building. I have absolutely no allusions about any potential relationship with her, but the truth is that I’ll see her around, that automatically perpetuates the dream of more happening with her and, well, you can figure out the rest from there.
I never would have heard of Philippe de Broca’s LE MAGNIFIQUE if it wasn’t for its appearance in the great documentary on the Z Channel, but now that’s something I’m glad about. It’s a breezy concoction which seems to end almost as soon as it begins and I mean that in the best way. It’s a movie that makes me wish I were currently dating someone so I could show it to her.
We begin on an admittedly absurd spy story involving Bob St.Clare (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his contact in Acalpulco, Tatiana (Jacqueline Bisset). Several minutes after things have gotten too absurd for words, we learn that this scenario is actually part of a James Bond-type novel being written by author Francois Merlin (Belmondo again) who has already written 42 of these books and this time is using as his inspiration the beautiful student named Christine (Bisset again) who also lives in his building. As he continues to write, he finds himself also getting to know Christine, which leads to the beginning of his own self-sabotage of his own character.
The secret agent plotline is delightfully ridiculous, yet I’d still watch a full movie just made up of this story. But at the same time the real world half of the film, while never very serious, hits close to home just enough that makes the film instantly relatable to anyone who wishes that they could be as cool as Jean-Paul Belmondo. The actor is quite amazing in both halves and the Bogart vibe he gives off, at least partly due to memories of BREATHLESS, means that this would be a delightful second half of a double bill with the more serious IN A LONELY PLACE, with Bogart as a Hollywood screenwriter dealing with his own female problems. Bisset is so off-the-charts sexy here that I honestly don’t think that the word ‘sexy’ is enough to adequately describe her. I don’t think they’ve come up with the word to describe her yet. Could I meet Jacqueline Bisset at some point, please? Please? I promise I’ll be polite.
LE MAGNIFIQUE is extremely light and intentionally very silly. The DVD packaging tries to trumpet a comparison to AUSTIN POWERS and I can see what they’re getting at, but it doesn’t really apply. The gentler tone of this specific parody seems more appropriate for a French film made in the early 70s—at least what I expect from a French film from the 70s, anyway. And yet however silly LE MAGNIFIQUE gets in both of its halves it still has enough depth to remind me how cool and heroic Belmondo can be, whether as the down-on-his-luck writer or as the ultra-suave superspy. In some ways, the writer half of his character has the advantage because it illustrates how he’s still able to attract the interest of the one and only Jacqueline Bisset. That’s more than I’ve ever been able to say about my relationship with the girl who lives in my building. At the very least, it can be films like LE MAGNIFIQUE which remind me that there’s no harm in occasionally thinking that I might have a shot with her.