Monday, February 15, 2010

Gainsbourg, Birkin and Lafont: Three Major Players in a Very Minor Film.

An extremely silly but sort of entertaining 1972 offering from French director Richard Balducci, Trop jolies pour être honnêtes is rightly considered as an extremely minor collaboration between the legendary film, music and real-life team of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.
Starring the iconic duo, along with delightful Bernadette Lafont, Emma Cohen and Elisabeth Wiener, Trop jolies pour être honnêtes (Too Pretty to be Honest) is a rather weak and nonsensical farce but fans of Birkin and Gainsbourg won’t want to miss it, even though it is far from being one of their key works. In fact the two barely appear on screen together at all, making Trop jolies pour être honnêtes even less appealing than it might otherwise be to Birkin and Gainsbourg fans all over the world.
Balducci was in his early forties when he wrote and shot the colorful but dim Trop jolies pour être honnêtes. A competent but not overly impressive filmmaker, Balducci was blessed to have such a warm and funny cast at his disposal as his extremely lightweight film, centering on four opportunistic roommates planning on stealing from their neighbors who happen to bank robbers, would have struggled to survive with lesser talent in front of the camera.
Shot by the legendary cinematographer Richard Suzuki, whose work on Emmanuelle just a couple of years later would make him one of the most copied photographers of the era, Trop jolies pour être honnêtes is an extremely attractive film that works as a colorful pop-art artifact if nothing else. The cast is gorgeous and the whole film feels like a piece of candy wrapped up in a particularly shiny and alluring wrapper. Unfortunately Balducci’s rather limp direction and the painfully inept script damages what could have been a quite funny and charming production.

There isn’t much to say about Trop jolies pour être honnêtes other than the obvious. Birkin is charming and gorgeous, Lafont is charismatic and hilarious and Gainsbourg exudes a sinister cool. In other words, the folks on screen that would lead a person to watch this extremely slight film all deliver what is expected of them. Birkin especially looks like she is having blast and is obviously not taking anything too seriously, which is the ideal way to watch this overly fluffy film.

A surprising weak characteristic of the film is the score, credited to the usually powerful duo of Gainsbourg and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier. Sounding like it was recorded in an afternoon after a night and morning of drinking and God knows what else, Trop jolies pour être honnêtes probably stands as the weakest soundtrack in Serge’s catalogue. The main theme is especially grating and sounds like the work of a great composer frankly slumming a bit.
French film connoisseurs will get a kick out of seeing so many familiar faces in the supporting cast of Trop jolies pour être honnêtes, including Henri Virlojeux, Henri Attal and Max Montavon, but ultimately all the film has is just small pleasures. It's a vapid production made all the weaker by Balducci's odd decision to go against the trends of the day by making the film more than a bit family oriented. This is finally the most PG like work Birkin and Gainsbourg ever appeared in together, and it was not a good fit for the trendsetting and provocative duo.
Trop jolies pour être honnêtes is available on a Region 2 DVD in Europe but it still hasn’t seen the light of day in the States. Ideal for a box set dedicated to Birkin and Gainsbourg, as the film on its own would struggle to find an audience, Trop jolies pour être honnêtes is worth the search only for fans of the legendary duo so long as not a lot of time is spent on it.

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