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Jean Lerat de la Grignotière is as full of himself as his name is long. Heeding (somewhat reluctantly to be true) the call of the Motherland he goes to the barracks where he is to accomplish his military duty. Posted to Corporal Bourrache's platoon he is surprised to meet there...Joseph, his own servant. Making blunder after blunder Jean gets hazed by his comrades and punished by his officers while Joseph's adaptation to military life is as smooth as can be. All this does not prevent the young snob from courting Catherine, the colonel's daughter, not very successfully at the beginning. Things start shaping better when he accepts to play a part in "Tire-au-flanc", Mouëzy-Eon's famed comedy. Interpreting the servant while Joseph plays his master, the successful beginner at long last becomes popular among the other soldiers and gets Catherine's hand as a bonus. Written by
Visually and aurally inventive farce about induction and basic training of army conscripts, centring around asinine but amiable upper-class twit Jean and fellow recruit Joseph, who happens to be his family's worldly- wise chauffeur.
In the tradition of silent film, much of the comedy is knockabout, dreamlike or surreal. A long segment involves instructing the squad on how to salute an officer when you are involved in a range of other tasks such as carrying a bucket, riding a bike or riding a horse. In each case the relevant prop arrives on the barrack square by magic and the intrepid corporal then demonstrates the relevant action.
In the tradition of the nouvelle vague, many quiet chuckles come if you recognise allusions to earlier works. Paying homage to "À propos de Nice", the soldiers attend the carnival and, as in Vigo's 1929 film, some girls doing high kicks show their knickers. Another extended sequence is a tribute to Hollywood musicals when, in a dream, Jean returns to the assault course where he had been humiliated by his maladroitness. This time the sun is shining, the obstacles are decorated with streamers and balloons, romantic music is playing, he is Gene Kelly and the colonel's beautiful daughter in a flowing summer frock does acrobatic dance routines with him.
From a stage play by André Mouézy-Éon and André Sylvane, written before the First World War, that was made into a silent film by Jean Renoir in 1928 and had also been filmed by Fernand Rivers in 1950. Truffaut has a cameo as an ex-jailbird, which he was in real life, while the delectable Bernadette Lafont, his protégée who had become a muse for Claude Chabrol, appears not only as a pin-up but also as a glamorous film actress, as she was in real life. Affectionate playing with the medium of film and with its history is one of the picture's delights.
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