Overwhelmed, as I am, by the Protestant ethic and its dour and anal tenets, I felt impaled on an Anglo-Catholic wheel of fire from the moment the titles appeared. The letters (designed by Saul Bass) were all formed from phallic components, decorated with blue vegetable coloring and topped with maraschino cherries. In the background one could make out M. Quouquou and Sr. Picasso rais-Yul Brynner on a flaming cross.
Ah, Le vieux mattre; Before a word of dialogue was spoken, we knew (even those of us who separate our visceral and esthetic perceptions, and neatly categorize them like fruit flies or faeces) yes, we knew unfailingly just what this beautiful film would be like.
Quouquou often reminds me of other beloved cinematic innovators, such as the great Basque director Urethra Farrebique and her sad, clever husband Max Weber. For Quouquou does not force us to "sap life with art," as Antoine Sibile has put it in a recent issue of Les Fesses. He does not force us, in fact, he lets the whole religious force of his thought sweep over us. And, like a heaven sent storm, even the bilge it leaves in the scuppers of our mind is full of salt. A description of one scene should be enough to prove my point, although it can hardly match the full anagogical power of "the real thing."
The camera, itself carried by an exquisitely intelligent (and spiritually inclined) wild ass (representing the fifth of the deadly sins, anal retention), sways rhythmically up and down, generating a subtle, but unmistakable aura of coitus. Jockeying back and forth into view were Jacques Tati and Mme. de Gaulle playing mudgutter across the north transept of Chartres Cathedral. At the end of each round, the loser had to run nude through the south portal and roll in the snow before a crowd of lepers. With that lovely timing for which he is worshipped, Quouguou waits until the lepers have drawn very close to the writhing figure of M. Tati, their bells clanging. Then he cuts abruptly to the bells of the church. We follow the bell rope until, at its end we discover, to our spiritual delight, the dangling body of Mme de Gaulle, her face almost hidden, but unmistakable, under a carpet of ants. With a holy grace Quouquou dissolves to Colombey-les-Deux Eglises where, ironically enough M. de Gaulle is praying for his wife's soul while his servants sneak up behind him with an enormous pointed truncheon.
I caught this film at the Vatican Library and hope to see it soon at the Club 47 Mt. Auburn. It is an illustrated Aquinas.