There is a prominent strain of burlesque in Quebec’s popular culture—the sort of pungent caricature that goes hand in hand with a strong cultural identity. And it takes different forms in the movies Le Party and Cruising Bar, two Quebec hits now being released in English Canada. Le Party is visceral prison drama; Cruising Bar is giddy sex farce. Although one is funny and the other scary, both are ruthless explorations of male vulgarity.
In Le Party, the drama focuses on an actual burlesque troupe, which is invited to perform at a men’s prison by the inmates’ committee. The movie was inspired by an idea from former FLQ terrorist Francis Simard, who organized a similar event while serving 11 years of a life sentence at the Leclerc Institute in Laval, Que. It was written and directed by Montreal documentary filmmaker Pierre Falardeau, making his first dramatic feature.
A profane slice of prison life, Le Party unfolds with the raw realism of a documentary. There is no star and no hero. It is like a concert movie with a brutal backstage intrigue. Passing around marijuana and bottles of moonshine, a wild crowd of 300 convicts is treated to a show that features two strippers, a lady magician, a transvestite torch singer and a hard-rock band. As the warden and his colleagues watch nervously from the balcony, the strippers work the crowd into a screaming frenzy. Later, an inmate invited onstage by the band unleashes a song called Le Ser ou (the guard), a
vengeful fantasy about cas-
trating a prison employee at his home, wrecking his car with a crowbar and raping his wife.
Backstage, the performers conduct a brisk commerce in contraband sex. One of the strippers prostitutes herself, while the troupe’s transvestite dispenses oral sex for free. The
other stripper, a compassionate beauty named Alexandra (Charlotte Laurier), kindles a romance with a member of the inmates’ committee. Meanwhile, Pierrot (Alexis Martin), an inmate who has plotted an elaborate escape, spends the show in the dressing room disguising himself as a woman. Another inmate, Boyer (Julien Poulin), is locked in solitary, contemplating suicide while his girlfriend (Lou Babin), a country singer with the troupe, frets in the wings.
Cutting between the show, the audience and the various subplots, the movie presents a three-tiered paradigm of the class system. The inmates are the workers. The performers are the artists, teasing them with a vision of liberation. And in the balcony sits the ruling class—the prison administration—nervously allowing a little freedom of expression.
Director Falardeau’s bias is savagely clear: the inmates are not as vulgar as the prison and the system that supports it. Attacking middleclass propriety, he makes an easy target of an unreasonably dumb female journalist visiting the prison. But the other characters are con-
vincing. And although the director drives home his message with a heavy hand, his brassknuckled realism suits his subject. Well-acted and diabolically conceived, Le Party’s party of the damned leaves an indelible impression.
Cruising Bar, on the other hand, is a featherweight farce. Its day-in-the-life scenario weaves tales of four men trying to pick up women. The movie’s appeal begins and ends with a brilliant comic performance by Michel Côté, who plays all four. His characters are so distinct that, without knowing, it would be hard to guess they are all played by the same actor. They are assigned a bestiary of1 nicknames in the credits: the Peacock, the Bull, the Lion and the Worm.
Charles, the Peacock, is a preposterously vain bachelor who has received professional training in making himself irresistible to women. He drives a BMW and prepares for his night on the town by getting a massage, a hairdo and a manicure. He buys lambskin condoms and hides them strategically around his luxury apartment.
Jerry, the Bull, is a Cadillac-driving, beer-bellied body-shop manager who enjoys a high turnover of sex partners. Telling his wife that he is going to a Chamber of Commerce meeting, he spends the evening picking
up women in rapid succession
at a tacky singles club with a medieval motif— and having sex with them in an adjoining hotel room.
Patrick, the Lion, is a sweet but stupid party animal with a rock ’n’ roll mane of blond hair. He is trying to shake a cocaine habit and rekindle a romance. A bumbling film technician by day, he grooms himself by pumping iron while listening to heavy metal.
George, the Worm, is an acne-ravaged loser terrified by the prospect of meeting girls, but determined to try. His face spotted with tissuecovered shaving cuts, he looks for love in the apocalyptic crush of a punk club.
The four caricatures add up to a withering comedy of male manners. Côté is hilarious, especially as the Peacock. But well before the end of the movie, his act wears thin. Cruising Bar presents a pastiche of richly observed sketches that never coalesce into a movie. While searching for women, Côté’s characters also seem to be in search of a story. Director Robert Menard, who co-wrote the script, fails to knot the story lines with a satisfactory resolution. All four characters meet punishing fates. Like Le Party, Cruising Bar is a tale of unrequited lust—of men with caged libidos who are desperately trying to break out of solitary. In both movies, there is no redemption when the party’s over.
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