Having his job as a tweed tailor, Alex Ponttin has devised a novel way to keep himself in touch with society. He admits himself into people's homes, by pretending to be a relative or an official, and persuading his victims to give him a night's free board. With his disarming, amiable personality, he is rarely refused. So he visits the vulgar Dumont, the nymphomaniac Marie Wileska and he stays at the shy lesbian Caroline Winberg. Alex helps Caroline in conflicts with her quarrelsome girl-friend Gloria and he rescues Caroline's inheritance. The homeless Alex is chased by Commissaire Bruneau. Fortunately, the police officers investigating the case are so terminally stupid that Alex has little chance of being arrested... Written by
The wonderful Michel Serrault plays Alex, a semi-vagrant in detachable clothes who walks into strangers' apartments, pretends to be a relation or official to get a meal and bed for the night, before returning to his home in a tenement cubbyhole. It appears that Alex has not only lost his wife but his job too. While somehow, HARVEY-like, transforming the lives of those he intrudes upon, he is being shadowed by a double who promptly robs them. A farcical detective case ensues which, as it typical of French cinema, opts for a troubling, diffuse solution, rather than a straightforward, cathartic one.
The film is apparently a comedy, from Alex's clown-like garb to the jaunty, melodic, Tati-esque score. However, much of the humour is verbal and depends on tortuous word-play that went way over my Intermediate-level-French head. Even so, there is some charm in Alex's meetings, the disjunction between an apparent tramp and the generally well-heeled lives he encounters.
In many ways, Alex is a Benjaminian flaneur, absolved from social expectations after his responsibilities (marital and work) are lifted; he is free, in a way most citizens are not, to negotiate a vast, sprawling, increasingly faceless metropolis, to connect seemingly different people and classes, to trawl through the unnoticed detritus (rubbish bins, sewers etc) that are in fact the lifeblood of any city. The film which opens with a long shot of a busy street, full of different and opposing lives and desires, becomes something more manageable and comforting.
Linked to this, however, is the loss of a reassuring place in society that work and social relations give; the feeling of being let drift, afloat, unnoticed. Many lonely lives pass like this, and Serrault, the main reason for watching this film, suggests the melancholy behind his comic facility. This increasing alienation from one's society, one's self even, is figured in the double/detective plot. The figure of the fictional detective actually arose as a result of urbanisation, a reassuring figure who could map out and control the ever-growing, frightening city. The detectives here, however, are fools, and their solutions are anything but reassuring, slightly disturbing the overall complacency of BONSOIR.
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