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Filmed in Paris, not Rome. And more a critique of American politics than Italian. They used the building site from the demolition of the traditional Les Halles district in the heart of the city as the location for their wild, wild west - including the huge pit that is now the Les Halles shopping center (and cinemas, swimming pool, parking lot, etc). Inspired! All the scenes are set in and around the building site. Custer makes his last stand, horses gallop past modern cafés, the familiar Parisian architecture rings the pit, and a Pinkerton agent Pinkerton himself) walks around in modern dress. Throw in every leading French actor of the era (some of them still around) as both cowboys and Indians and you've got the makings of a fantastic farce.
Don't Touch the White Woman is a very strange and surreal film for the
average person...it basically tells the story of General George Custer's
defeat at Little Big Horn. It tells it as a semi-costume period piece in
the midst of modern Paris, though...centered on a large construction
Mastrianni is wonderful as Custer, and Deneuve is great as always, but I think Ugo Tognazzi steals the show as the Indian scout...this is such a shocking role for all those who only know the actor through La Cage Aux Folles.
Several tribes of Native Americans have taken up residence in a large
excavation in the center of modern day Paris. Meeting nearby in an
ornate domed room, some wealthy industrialists decide that the savages
are impeding progress and must be exterminated. After successfully
bribing the head of the army, General Custer is brought in to lead the
effort. A portrait of their President, Richard Nixon, seems to watch
over them from everywhere.
Made in the early 1970s, this surreal black comedy is usually interpreted as a scathing commentary on America's involvement in Vietnam, but I didn't see it that way. There is nothing in the film which significantly corresponds to the Vietnam conflict, and the few American symbols which show up are so awkwardly out of place and the characters exaggerated in such a ludicrous manner that it had the effect of constantly reminding me that this wasn't really about Americans. I can't claim to know how the European audience for which it was intended would have viewed it, but I saw it as a satirical look at European racism and colonialism (which, of course, would ultimately include both the genocide of Native Americans and the conflict in Vietnam) and a left-wing allegory of capitalism in which the Native Americans represent the oppressed working classes.
As a social/political satire, it achieves it's greatest success in depicting an absolute and brutal racism without being didactic or calling unnecessary attention to it. The most interesting character is Custer's Indian scout. Moving freely among both European and Native American societies, he is detested by both groups and detests both of them in return. The title of the film comes from Custer's constant reminders of the many things which the scout, being an Indian, is not allowed to do. When asked by another Native American why he hates Custer so much, the scout replies "because he treats me like... an Indian". The pause in delivering the line and the comic reaction of both characters afterward is handled exceptionally well.
All in all, the film's success as a left-wing critique of capitalism/colonialism is limited because so many of its clever subtleties get lost in the comedic noise. As a satire on American imperialism it fares much more poorly, coming dangerously close to being little more than a partisan screed. It does, however, achieve moderate success at being an entertaining absurdist farce with excellent comedic performances by the lead actors.
Leave it to Marco Ferreri to place Custer's defeat in the hands of over the top Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret, Catherine Deneuve and many other great actors. Staged in Paris where the building-pit of what is now shopping-mall Les Halles represents the prairie all forms of humour are on display, ending in black. Humour that is. A film not be missed by comediens and their followers.
Marco Ferreri's "Touche pas a la femme blanche" - "Don't Touch the
White Woman" in English - could easily be an extension of "Little Big
Man" or a movie version of "A People's History of the United States",
although it came out a few years before Howard Zinn published his
famous book. It portrays the US government's crusade to exterminate the
Indians, reenacted in 1970s Paris (complete with references to Pres.
Nixon, and even Watergate). Marcello Mastroianni makes a chilling Gen.
Custer, but Michel Piccoli is quite funny as Buffalo Bill: he sounded
as though he was trying to put on an American accent while speaking
I read about how Marco Ferreri played a major role in the changing Italian cinema of the '60s and '70s. Certainly this film shows that. Specifically, as the United States had been taking a different look at its own history - our own glasnost and perestroika, you might say - Europe was also challenging the American cultural myth (no surprise there). I definitely recommend the movie. Also starring Catherine Deneuve and Ugo Tognazzi.
Leave it to Marco Ferreri to decide to make this film in the pit that
was created out of what had been Les Halles food market in the center
of Paris. This was the site where the Pompidou Center was erected and
now stands proudly, as though it was always had been there for all
The director deals with a page of shame of American history as George Custer prepared, and later battled, the Indians in the battle of Little Big Horn that was his last stand as a military man. Where Marco Ferreri succeeds is in mixing the plot of the film with every day life of Paris in which most people didn't even bat an eye watching the invading Americans.
Mr. Ferreri was lucky in getting some familiar faces to play in his film. Thus, Marcello Mastroianni is seen as General Custer. Catherine Deneuve played the object of the general's affections. Ugo Tognazzi is great as Mitch. Michel Piccoli is bigger than life in his take of Buffalo Bill. Philippe Noiret, another excellent actor, plays Gen. Terry, and Serge Reggiani is seen as the mad Indian who runs in and out of most scenes wearing a loin cloth to cover a little bit of his nakedness.
The idea of staging this film in a construction site works well with the action in the movie thanks to a revolutionary idea by Marco Ferreri.
General George Custer can't wait to crush the Indians in Marco
Ferreri's Touche Pas à la femme blanche. It's the only thing he can
talk about. Meanwhile, he also falls in love with Marie-Hélène, who
can't be touched by an Indian, especially Custer's informant. The
informant awaits his moment.
Just another ordinary version of the battle between settlers and Indians at Little Big Horn? Far from it! The ever wayward filmmaker Marco Ferreri chose to film the battle of Little Big Horn at the place where Les Halles - the Parisian vegetable market - was taken down in 1974. In fact, it was actually taken down during the filming of this movie. The demolishers were probably rubbing their eyes in astonishment. Catherine Deneuve, right here, in this mess?
I enjoyed the movie immensely. All the actors wear the same deadpan expressions as if they really are blind to the fact that they are acting out a traditional western story in a modern setting. Unlike in Les Visiteurs, no jokes about the confrontation with modernity. The characters just do not seem to see it, as if they live in another dimension. It creates many brilliant moments, such as when a cannon is fired and a building collapses. Or if Custer points to a Coca-Cola advertisement and says: "My wife."
1974's DON'T TOUCH THE WHITE WOMAN! is an an odd, farcical critique of Capitalism and Manifest Destiny setting General Custer's Battle of the Little Bighorn in the early'70's with Richard Nixon as President, and a large, controversial, construction pit in Paris, France filling in for the site of the famed Montana massacre. The location of the pit, known as Les Halles, had been Paris's central wholesale marketplace for nearly 800 years before being razed to make way of a multi-tiered commercial business center/modern shopping mall, and - particularly important to the City's growth - a central railroad hub (something that it's helpful to know in order to fully "get" an allegory in the film regarding the need to displace or eliminate the local Natives in order to make way for the railroad). Additional contemporary political commentary surfaces when justifications given for taking action against the Natives, parallel those used by the French against the Algerians, and by both the French and Americans in Vietnam. If all this makes the movie sound thoughtful or fascinating, I am sorry to report that it is neither, the most interesting aspects being the broad performances by an all-star cast led by Catherine Deneuve (Madame Boismonfrais; trans. Freshwood?), Marcello Mastroianni (Gen. Custer), Michel Piccoli (Buffalo Bill), Philippe Noiret (Gen. Terry) and La Cage aux Folles co-star, Ugo Tognazzi as Custer's famed Indian Scout, Mitch Bouyer, portrayed here as a duplicitous chameleon playing both sides, while selling "Indian artifacts" to tourists that are actually made by white women in sweatshop conditions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... other than Les Halles - the 'stomach of Paris' had recently been razed to the ground and this ... I hesitate to use the word film ...was filmed in the space created. Fereira acknowledges no rules of logic; time and again we are told we are in Washington DC or in Dakota, scene of the Little Big Horn aka Custer's Last Stand yet all the shop signs are in French and there is even the occasional street sign bearing the legend: Rue; there are even more specific references to President Nixon - indeed his photograph is prominent, yet most of the principals are dressed for the nineteenth century, including Catherine Deneuve. Somehow, and God KNOWS how, Fereira is able to get fine actors to forget all their training and turn in performances that would be unacceptable in a Church hall and I myself am equally naive, having seen ONE Feriera piece of crap in the same season as this I knowingly and willingly subjected myself to a second using the logic that NOTHING could be worse than Dillinger Is Dead. Boy, Did I Get A Wrong Number.
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