Two more down, neither of which I had high hopes for, but I was pleasantly surprised in both cases.
Lady Oscar - A very strange film: a French subject, adapted from a Japanese manga, made in English with Japanese money. Even stranger is imagining who its target audience could have been. Initially it seems to be pitched at ten-year-old girls - a shallow, rollicking romantic adventure - but there's bad language, exposed breasts and it's all steeped in remarkably perverse gender politics.
The manga influence gives the film very flat characterizations and a cute but limiting breathlessness to its exposition, but the real interest for me lies in the gender play. Lady Oscar is a girl who has been raised as a boy so that she can succeed her father as the Queen's guard (the queen in question is Marie Antionette). As played, the drag is extremely unconvincing, but it seems to deceive people. Except that we soon realise it doesn't: Marie A and her friends know she's a she, and so do most of the other women at court - she's even sparked a fashion for masculine dress. (The original comic strip was apparently inspired by the real life Chevalier d'Eon, but it doesn't have an ounce of the ingrained oddness of his/her story.) The men, however, seem unable to penetrate the disguise, even when they're "oddly attracted" to the fey young soldier. Her 'brotherly' bond to groom Andre, with whom she was raised, blossoms into true love on cue. So far, so fairy tale, but Demy uses those role-playing conventions to take the film into some rather challenging areas.
As the film progresses, the charade seems to slip away - a new group of soldiers refuse to obey their boss because he's obviously a girl, for example - and by the time 'Lady Oscar' comes to be married off to a wicked baron, her true gender is common knowledge. And this is where Demy delivers his coup de grace. The Baron's interest in Oscar, it seems, is as much because of her masculine pose and despite it, and he indicates that what he's really interested in is a three-way with Andre as well. Her retaliation is to do a Marlene: turn up for the engagement party in man-drag, aggressively dance with a fetching maiden (a newcomer who seems to be the only person present unaware that Oscar's a woman) and conclude with a full-on kiss. In such comparatively decorative surroundings, the scene carries a real punch.
Otherwise, it's memorably lush, with Demy making the most of his opportunity to film at Versailles. However lightweight the story is, the film is consistently gorgeous to look at and the transfer is very good.
Parking - This film has so many things going against it you feel like it ought to give up the fight halfway through.
1) It's an update of Orpheus, and not just of the myth, but of Cocteau's Orpheus, against which it's hopelessly outmatched (and Jean Marais is on hand to rub it in).
2) In this version, Orpheus is a rock star.
3) And Eurydice is an avant-garde sculptor.
4) It's a wall-to-wall fashion crime scene, with Orphee wearing a red headband throughout.
5) When he's 'rocking out' on stage the headband flashes with LED's.
6) The special effects are atrocious (Charon's eyes glow red - spooky!)
7) It's a musical, but the music is abominable French 80s pop.
8) It's topical! (The John Lennon references boomerang almost as disastrously as the Cocteau ones.)
But despite all this, I think I'm with Barmy on this: I sort of loved it. The very '80s vision of Hell as a black, white and acid red transitional space (part warehouse, part abandoned downtown, part airport security post) is pretty indelible. And there is one half-decent song (about which more in a moment).
And, once again, Demy's interest in unusual sexual politics manages to make this film unlike anything else of its time. Orphee, you see, is unabashedly bisexual, living in a menage a trois / quatre with his beloved wife and his beloved boyfriend, Calais (fourth wheel Aristee, who evidently just likes to watch, is the cutest of the bunch), and the film's big romantic number is a 'Triad'-like ballad about not wanting to have to choose between his male and female lover. What's really remarkable about this aspect of the film is that the tangled erotic relationships are never presented as problematic: Orphee's male lover is never presented as a threat to his marital love, and the tragedy of his loss of Eurydice is in no way 'discounted' by the relationship that survives. This would be a bold enough attitude to take in a new film, but it's amazing to see it in one more than 20 years old. Presumably this would have been the most personal aspect of the film for Demy, and it's certainly the one that burns most passionately from the screen.
Last edited by zedz
on Mon Dec 15, 2008 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.