'Get Out Your Handkerchiefs' Is An Outlandish, Subversive Romantic Comedy That Flirts With Going Too Far [Review]

Raoul (Gérard Depardieu) really wants his wife Solange (Carole Laure) to be happy. She’s become depressed and prone to dizzy spells, and he doesn’t know what to do. Furiously, and loudly, discussing this with her in public, Raoul is sure he notices her eyeing a bearded fellow sitting alone across the room. Raoul asks to sit next to the man, Stéphane (Patrick Dewaere), a school teacher who is awkwardly confused, but seemingly polite enough not to refuse. Solange’s husband asks the would-be suitor if he’d like to take his wife home, and to bed. Stéphane is convinced that he must be part of some candid gimmick, but Raoul is quite persistent. He just wants his lover to be happy again, and if that means her sleeping with another man, so be it.

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 51st Academy Awards and named 1978’s Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, the roaring sex comedy, “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,” directed by Bertrand Blier (“How Much Do You Love Me?”) is a riot against romantic responsibility. More than occasionally pompous and other times bitingly hilarious, Blier’s film is perhaps too inherent of a relationship learning lesson for the times we live in today, but the ideas his movie are chasing remain all too systemically relevant. The film could perhaps be seen as an attempt to poke and prod at the more concerning aspects of a dreamy love triangle movies like Francois Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” or a more fantastical, pre-teen initiation in the vein of Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Determined to alleviate her depression, Raoul arranges for Solange to move in with Stéphane. How this is handled through a prolonged train station farewell is a revealing indicator of the film’s sense of humor. Unfortunately, the plan to cure Raoul’s wife’s gaslighted ailment doesn’t take. Stéphane is self-absorbed and socially clueless, claiming Mozart has been the only friend in his life. He passes the time by collecting thousands of paperbacks he sees as canonical works of writing, alphabetizing and memorizing the cataloged numbers he gives them. Despite later claiming to love him while knitting naked in bed, Solange seems as bored and emotionless as ever. It isn’t until she meets one of her assigned sleeping buddies’ bullied young students, 13-year old Christian (Michel Serrault) that she begins to smile again.

The beyond absurd second half of “Get Out Your Handkerchiefs” is quite the uncomfortable swerve, as flattered amusement quickly becomes questionable affection. Solange goes from being abhorred by Christian’s behavior, to almost instantly gifting him a dream of a first experience. He claims to be bored by everything and confused by his desires, and that she has a responsibility to his adolescent growth, thanks to her ongoing provocation. While the film seems to understand the glaring problem behind this sentiment, it addresses it by hanging far too bright a lantern on an already obvious taboo. While it may be an attempt to provocatively subvert expectations and comment on the fantasy of male body privilege, it seems so taken by the cleverness of its cuckolding that it defeats its own express purpose.

Heightened by utter sincerity and perhaps even stronger desperation, this is a movie whose cast would surely be committed for insanity, were such people ever to live their lives in such a manner. The men effectively act like spoiled children, maintaining their innocence under the most absolutely inane circumstances. It might be an examination of male naiveté, but it’s sometimes too cynical to be laughed at. Other physical comedy gags veer close to genius. There’s a brilliant bit where the two men won’t let an exhausted neighbor, who’s in significant financial debt, get a good night’s rest, because they need to worship Mozart, and they repeatedly insist on serving him alcohol.

“Get Out Your Handkerchiefs” is an outlandishly self-deprecating deconstruction of the romantic comedy, playing what should be seen as ridiculous with a completely straight face. It’s at once hysterically solemn and stupidly over-convinced of its own superior intelligence. In other word’s it’s extremely French, and also a product of its time. The movie is extremely entertaining, but the film’s uplift method is also frequently more concerning than enjoyable. [B]

The 40th anniversary, 2k restoration of Bertrand Blier’s “Get Out Your Hankerchiefs” is currently playing at The Laemmle Royal in LA.