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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jean-Michael and Claudine are the "78% normal" couple chosen to be
analysed/manipulated through a series of tests in a monitored household
for a French national experiment. The couple are only too happy, at
first, to comply with the scientists who regularly interrogate them,
seeing the whole set-up as little more than the chance to be the star
exponents of a new game show. Occasionally (in the film's stronger
sequences) a television announcer comments on their goings-on and
chairs group discussions with "experts" who argue the meaning and
validity of what they're watching.
The couple are at first bemused by the abundance of goods and possessions given to them by the state, but this soon palls as they are increasingly asked to define why they choose to do what they do. When the "Minister of the Future" comes to visit (with Godard and Fassbinder favourite Eddie Constantine in tow), Claudine is more interested in seeing an example of the Minister's ability to bend spoons - Uri Geller style than discerning what his policies or intention behind the whole project might be. Meanwhile, Jean-Michael becomes more argumentative, but no more enlightened, than his wife. Towards the end, their childish rebellion (involving the wanton destruction of their goods) leads to them being taken hostage by child revolutionaries who are just as unfocused as they are.
Expatriate American photographer William Klein's little known film presents a presciently topical subject for our Reality TV/'Big Brother' saturated times. However, as a piece of cinematic art, it falls short of the mark. Displaying little of the flair of his earlier (if strident and still flawed) 'Mr. Freedom', the film suffers from low rent production values and sloppy camera-work. The use of annoyingly cheesy songs (which occasionally comment on the action) and Goodies/Benny Hill style sped-up camera tricks also contribute to weakening its bite.
Although the viewer is privy to the ruminations and manipulations of the two interlocutor scientists (who are a couple themselves) we are never let much further into their motivations, other than an interest in behavioural psychology and a desire to "change" things. Possibly a more concerted interest in contrasting the two couples would have provided a richer experience. The film also lacks any real discernible shape. It's as if Klein had written it piecemeal, filming each new set-up as he devised them. In the hands of someone much more assured, like Jean-Luc Godard (who is a pervasive influence on Klein's film work), this could be a lean and fearsome beast. The end result, while intriguing, remains flabby. Regardless of these shortcomings however, there are still glimmers of elucidation to be found in the quagmire.
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