Published September 1, 1997
If I should happen to mention that the music in Mon Homme by Bertrand Blier consists entirely of selections by Barry White and Henryk Gorecki, you may get some idea of what a mess the picture is. At one level, it is, as are many of Blier’s earlier films, a masculine fantasy. The heroine is a prostitute, Marie (Anouk Grinberg), who loves her job. She can’t get enough of the sexual act. In the opening scene she converts a passing mère de famille, unsatisfied with her own life, to prostitution by telling her: “I have a happy mind and a happy ass and a healthy bank balance.” What, says the doubtful housewife, if the men are ugly? “A man’s never ugly, if you look at him right,” says Marie. And she lives up to this admirable conviction by preferring to entertain old men who can barely get up the stairs to her apartment, let alone anything else. She often doesn’t even charge them. “What I sell is love, real love,” she insists. “I was born with a talent to make sap flow. Even in autumn, leaves grow.” With her, “It’s always spring.”
But this unreality is further lightened by a peculiarly cinematic sort of whimsy. One night Marie finds a tramp called Jeannot (Gérard Lanvin) sleeping in the garbage at the bottom of her staircase. She tries to make him move, as the place is haunted by rats. He asks her for spare change. She persuades him to come to her apartment to have a blanquette de veau and a glass of wine. He happily does so. As he is on his way back to the streets for the night, she calls him back and invites him to sleep on her floor, near the radiator, so at least he will be warm. He agrees. But a woman accustomed to such challenges as we have seen her take up cannot resist tempting him further. “They say screwing me drives men wild. Don’t you want to suffer a bit?” she asks. He agrees, but turns out to have a skill of his own which drives her wild. Between the two of them they experience such transports of passion that they forget their names.
In the morning she is in love. She runs out for croissants to keep Jeannot in her bed. She prays to God a thank you “for this break, that may not be one.” She offers him the chance to be her pimp. She will give him all her money. “What if you want some?” he asks.
“Then I’ll ask you,” she says, bright eyed.
“And what if I say no?” he asks.
“Ah, then you’ll be a true pimp,” she replies.
Sure enough, Jeannot becomes a true pimp, to the point of slapping Marie around and trying to recruit another girl to work for him—a demure, red-headed manicurist called Sarah (Valéria Bruni Tedeschi) whom he calls Sanguine, or blood-orange. Sarah, however, cannot bring herself to go through with it, even for Jeannot, Marie is devastated by what she sees as his treachery and Jeannot himself is sent to prison. “Why does great happiness have to end?” asks Marie. “Whom does it bother?” But, determined as ever to remain mistress of her own happiness, she sets up a ménage á trois with Sanguine and another of life’s losers, Jean-François Oriole (Olivier Martinez). In the end Jeannot, beaten down more by another encounter with a demanding woman than by prison, comes to apologize to her. “Forgive me, Marie,” he says. “Forgive me, women.” We are left unsure if she takes him back or not.
I detect in all this an attempt at a sort of allegory of the relations between the sexes but can make no more sense of it than that. The problem, perhaps, is that the story is so whimsical as to be off-putting, though it has several memorable moments. Yet both of the principal actresses are so beautiful that the film is worth watching just to look at them. It’s not that they are prostitutes or co-wives and mothers that astonishes, but that they should settle for being anything less than goddesses. Maybe that’s the point of it too.