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Immigrants Luigi and Lafayette work for Andreas Flaxman at his wax museum in Lower Manhattan. Luigi, an asthmatic middle-aged romantic, works as an artist/sculptor while the Lafayette functions as a jack-of-all trades for Flaxman, who is obsessed with Ancient Rome, a preoccupation that most of his exhibits reflect. Lafayette lives in a rat-infested basement some blocks away and carries a whistle with to scare the rodents, which seem to be endemic to the area. He also works as a stagehand for a feminist theater group in their Off-off Broadway theater where he suffers their sexist abuses including being forced to wear a leotard. Angelica, one of the beautiful actresses in the troupe is attracted to him, and they begin a relationship. At the same time Luigi comes across the 50 foot model of King Kong in a Hudson River landfill, apparently discarded after the 1976 movie version of "King Kong." There he finds an orphaned baby chimpanzee which he takes to be the giant simian's son. Allergic... Written by
Marco Ferreri directed some of the most unusual films of the 1970s - from the castration love story "La Derniere Femme", to the gluttony fuelled orgy of "La Grande Bouffe". Bye Bye Monkey might not match those films for quality or shock value, but it most definitely surpasses them in the weirdness stakes.
Bye Bye Monkey is a rare exercise in cinematic existentialism that does not drown in its own pretence. In fact, the film's greatest achievement is that it somehow manages to be entertaining despite having a plot which basically involves Gerard Depardieu walking around with a monkey. There are, of course, detours from this central premise and they are just as perplexing. Ferreri offers a Roman wax museum subplot, feminist dancers interested in experiencing rape, a massive gorilla corpse/sculpture and a love scene between a young Depardieu and a then 65 year old Geraldine Fitzgerald. Did I mention that Gerard Depardieu incessantly blows a whistle throughout the film?
I'm really not sure what the film's deeper meaning is intended to be, assuming that it has one at all. Bye Bye Monkey contains so many ideas and passes comment on so many issues that I gave up trying to interpret them all. However, Ferreri's favourite theme of emasculation is unmissable in everything from the dancer rapists, to Luigi's sexual frustration and the birth registrar's comments on dressing Cornelius in girl's clothing. The film is never weighed down by its philosophy and there is just as much enjoyment to be had from the surreal imagery as from the film's ambiguous subtext.
Gerard Depardieu was doing his best work in the 1970s and he turns in another muscular performance as Lafayette. I can not imagine another major actor who would accept this role in the first place, let alone approach it with the conviction that Gerard does. Marcello Mastroianni is also great as Luigi, as is Geraldine Fitzgerald in her most controversial role. However, it is James Coco who almost manages to steal the show with his outrageously over the top performance as Mr Flaxman. As good as the actors are, this remains Ferreri's show and his direction is as stylish as ever.
Bye Bye Monkey is a real oddity of the 1970s. Ferreri was a truly unique director and this may be his most individual, if not most convincing, work.
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