I love Nagasi Oshima (Cruel Story of Youth, Taboo, In the Realm of the Senses).
I covet Luis Bunuel.
And, boy, do I like monkeys.
Max, Mon Amor finds Osima and Bunuel connected via writer Jean Claude-Carriere, Bunuel's primary collaborator during the second stage of his career where Claude-Carriere served as co-writer on Diary of a Chambermaid, Belle De Jour, The Milky Way, Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty, and That Obscure Object of Desire. His works are far ranging, contributing to Schlondorff's The Tin Drum, Deray's The Outside Man, Wadja's The Possessed, Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, as well as Valmont, The Return of Martin Guerre, Birth, and Goya's Ghosts, just to name a few.
I remember the first time I saw Max Mon Amour. I was a teen, new to cable television and movie channels and admittedly, while in the first days of discovering foreign/arthouse film, I would tune into anything foreign playing late night on Cinemax hoping to see some nudity. So, at the time I was just beginning to understand and devour surrealism but really I just saw the word "Amour," that it was French, so I figured it had a good chance of tickling my adolescent fancy. Yikes. I wasn't prepared for what Max, Mon Amour had to offer.
What I got was an odd film about a wealthy couple who were cheating on each other, the ice queen wife choosing a chimp as her mate. It smacked of the bizarre, in the best possible way, and seared its way into my brain. I couldn't nail down the exact intent. Was it saying sleeping with a monkey is okay as long as you think you are in love? I wasn't sure if it was meant to be serious, just plain strange, or a joke. Describing the film to friends, most couldn't even imagine such a thing had made. Watching the film again, all these years later, now a fanatic of the principles work, I'm still not 100% sure what to make of it. It is certainly still oddly wonderful, or wonderful for its oddness, but I wouldn't say the concept or the execution entirely works.
Diplomat Paul Jones (Anthony Higgins) suspects his wife, Margaret (Charlotte Rampling), of having an affair. He hires a detective to follow and her and discovers that she spends around two hours a day, six days a week, in a small apartment, the other occupant apparently never leaving. When Paul goes to confront her, much to his surprise he discovers her in bed with Max, a chimpanzee.
Basically, a 90 (+) minute stab at upper class mores, Max, Mon Amor's first jibe is in Paul's reaction to his wife's simian fling. Though shocked and appalled, he suggests that they move Max into their apartment, keep him as a sort of pet, but, as the film's central open and end credit image of a keyhole suggests, it is also a way to keep her lover, her scandal, close so Paul can scrutinize it.
Max, Mon Amor is often labeled as a comedy. True, it is clearly taking an absurdist's view of those scandalous privileged, but the film doesn't really have jokes. It has the overall concept and some situations (like a memorable dinner party scene where the Joneses first try to ignore Max's screechings, then trot him out in front of the company only to have him uncomfortably, too-affectionately, nuzzle Margaret) but in so far as specific humorous lines or sequences, the film opts to play it mostly straight. Actually, remove the monkey from the equation, take a few scenes just between Paul interrogating Margaret over her love and intimacy with for Max, make Max a bum, a pool boy, whatever, and it could appear like a straight Euro, artsy affair flick.
Now, I love it when a film is hard to pin. But, making the obvious leap, imagining Bunuel filming the material, one assumes he would have made it far more precocious, the humor would have been obvious. Oshima takes things in a far more staid direction. Perhaps that was the intent for the comedy, that he actually presented the story with a tone of melodrama seriousness without the wink, without the tip of the hat to the outrageousness of the proceedings. It is definitely not an easy tone to swallow, though it is facinating to see the likes of Rampling, so efficient in portraying women emotionally stone-faced though simmering with inner turmoil, flex those deadpan muscles while cuddling with a faux ape.
The DVD: Lionsgate.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The cinematography by Rauol Coutard (Alphaville, Weekend, The Bride Wore Black) and overall production design maintains an immaculate veneer. The print is suitably clean and pleasantly free from any age wear, dirt, spots, etc. Overall definitions are fine and the disc is technically sound. Vibrant color, good contrast and grain levels.
Sound: Mono, English and French language with optional English (two tracks, one for just the French dialouge, one for both French and English) or Spanish subtitles and English Close-Captioning.
Conclusion: The behind the scenes pedigrees couldn't be better, but Max, Mon Amour remains merely an absurd, surrealist curio. The film has some difficult to digest tonality problems and the overall concept is a bit undercooked. Lionsgate gives the film a nice transfer but skimps on any extras. The kind of lukewarm presentation die hard fans of the genre will want to purchase while others will opt for a rental.