Reeling Backward: Going Places (1974)
Seen as a scampy sex comedy back in its day, this French film that made Gérard Depardieu a star may just be the most misogynistic film I've ever seen.
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As a rule I hate judging antiquated pieces of art by modern standards. It’s like lambasting your grandmother for the things she said and did as a child.
Still, I had a hard time reconciling the depiction of sexuality in “Going Places,” a 1974 film directed and co-written ( with Philippe Dumarçay) by Bertrand Blier, based on his own novel.
It was seen at the time as a randy sex comedy about a pair of young hooligans who wander about France, stealing cars and bedding women. They treat their crimes as an extravagant joke, living life as if nothing matters. But in their sardonic smirks I detected the brutish nihilism of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex from “A Clockwork Orange.”
They’re basically brutes and rapists who dress themselves up in their own minds as hedonistic romantics. This may just be the most misogynistic movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s now out in a new Blu-ray reissue from Kino Lorber.
I recall many years ago reading a description of a scene an unremembered critic gave where the duo board a train and, espying a woman breast-feeding her baby, cheekily ask for a sip themselves. It sounded silly and light and naughty.
How it played out for me in a recent viewing was anything but frisky. The woman (Brigitte Fossey) is utterly terrified as the men sidle up to her to stare at her threateningly while nursing her baby. She moves to another part of the train but they follow, their lazy aggression a palpable presence.
Jean-Claude (Gérard Depardieu) offers her money to let his buddy, Pierrot (Patrick Dewaere), suckle at her breast. He had previously been shot in the groin during an earlier caper, grazing his testicle, and perhaps Jean-Claude is looking to assure Pierrot with an opportunity to express his masculinity.
She agrees… but under clear threat of force.
That’s bad enough, but then the movie shows her becoming aroused during the act, with Jean-Claude joining in with kisses and fondling. It buttresses filthy falsehoods about rape fantasy, and rather than being turned on by what was being depicted as a passionate ménage à trois, I found myself repulsed.
The interlude is abruptly ended when Pierrot ceases his suckling, bemoaning his lack of an erection, which coincides with the train arriving at the woman’s stop. She quickly departs and the pair watch her enthusiastically kissing her husband, a decidedly dweeby-looking guy in a soldier’s uniform, lamenting that they have merely warmed her up for him.
That’s about the speed of the whole film, which plays out as a series of barely connected vignettes. They meet and abuse various other women, including the opening scene where they stalk and assault a matronly older woman, making off with her purse containing ₣15.
They are chased by a group of men and run away, a scene repeated several times throughout the movie, Benny Hill-style, which is their standard M.O. whenever they are confronted by someone other than a female or an older man.
They do have one particular woman they keep returning to, Marie-Ange (Miou-Miou), a listless shampoo girl they encounter. After stealing a new green Citroën DS for a joy ride, they decide to return it to the same spot — simply for the random, illogical pleasure of it — and are surprised by the salon owner with a gun.
After overcoming him, they take the girl to the junkyard where they sometimes work, offering her as payment to the mechanic for hiding them. He also exchanges their car, but not before sawing down the front wheel so that when it is returned to the owner, it will soon snap and potentially injure or kill him.
The mechanic complains afterward that Marie-Ange is a cold fish in bed. She’s the same when Jean-Claude and Pierrot have their own way with her. She submits to all demands for sex this way, without complaint or objection, though she takes no pleasure at all from it.
Despite the boys' continuing abuse of her, Marie-Ange always welcomes them back when they turn up despite their previous maltreatment — even after they shoot her in the leg upon robbing the salon, leaving her tied up and bleeding.
Indeed, during their last excursion together they take up blissful residence at a vacant countryside manor together. Here Marie-Ange finally comes out of her sexual shell, bedding an inept virgin who has just been released from prison. The boys are aggrieved, throwing her into the stately pond several times, but all is well when they can resume their own adventures with her, now with her enthusiastic assent.
The prisoner was the son of another recently paroled convict, Jeanne, played by the great Jeanne Moreau. Down on their luck, they figured that someone just released from prison would be an easy target, and indeed the middle-aged woman seems bewildered but not displeased by all the attention from these two scruffily handsome young men.
After some fine dining they all have sex together, but the next morning Jeanne steals their gun and kills herself. She does this in the most graphic way possible, shooting herself up into her vagina. Leave aside the logistics of how this would even work, it’s a moment that’s half-horrifying, half-absurd as Jeanne destroys her own womanhood after having it ravaged by these two feral man-boys.
It was at this point that I started to consider if Blier was playing one big joke on the audience, throwing all these women-hating acts and attitudes into one big pot and stirring it up to a roiling boil. Are we supposed to identify with these men? Loathe them? Pity them? Laugh at them?
A bit of all, I think. “Going Places” works as much as a mirror as an act of storytelling, presenting us with all these terrible deeds and ambiguous feelings and daring us to make sense of it all.
Depardieu is a commanding presence as the alpha male, always pushing and pulling his pal into new deeds. At one point Jean-Claude even expressed his attraction for Pierrot and makes as if to rape him, though it’s unclear if they actually went through with it. It’s a star-making role, and Depardieu milks it for every drop.
It was the break-out movie for all three of its stars, with Depardieu eventually going on to international acclaim as a heartthrob. Miou-Miou has scored 10 nominations for the French equivalent of the Oscar, while Dewaere committed suicide at the age of 35.
“Going Places” was its American title; the original French “Les Valseuses” translates as "the waltzers,” a slang term for a man’s testicles. I guess “Balls” would be a better, and more appropriate English approximation.
Certainly, it’s a daring picture and often a beautiful one, with all the lovely French locales and frequent disrobing of its comely stars. Let’s put it this way: I was intrigued, and disgusted, and occasionally piqued… but never bored.