LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Review by Gordon Justesen
Tognazzi, Michel Serrault, Claire Maurier, Remi Laurent, Benny Luke, Carmen
Scarpitta, Luisa Maneri, Michel Galabru
Director: Edouard Molinaro
Audio: French PCM Mono (with English Subtitles)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: September 10, 2013
“He’s been taken from us, and we won’t have any others.”
“Unless there’s a miracle.”
Like perhaps most American moviegoers, my discovery of the 1978 French farce La Cage aux Folles was through its 1996 U.S. remake, The Birdcage. And in a way, it’s kind of unfortunate that I am viewing the original version after seeing the American take, because they are essentially the exact same movie only with different dialects. Right down to every spoken piece of dialogue, there is very little difference.
Another disadvantage is that by this point, I was so used to the physical hilarity executed in the remake by Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and, most especially, Hank Azaria, that I didn’t seem to adapt that well to the performers in the French original. I’m not saying that the originators weren’t less funny, but merely stating a performance preference. You’ll have to forgive me for my limited knowledge of French cinema, as my reason for wanting to see this movie was mainly out of simple curiosity.
And yet, director Edouard Molinaro’s film, which itself is an adaptation of a French stage play, has one major advantage over the remake in that it was very much a breakthrough film. Here was a comedy comprised of mostly gay characters that became quite a box office sensation when it was released in the U.S., something that basically didn’t exist by this time. What’s more, both this and the remake are very much accessible to any audience, no matter what the sexual orientation is.
The plot concerns a gay couple, Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault), who run a nightclub with the titular name. Their lives are turned upside down when Renato’s son from a previous marriage, Laurent (Remi Laurent), announces that he is getting married. That isn’t so much the problem, but the fact that the fiancée happens to be the daughter of a conservative politician very much is.
The main concern is getting Albin, the far more feminine of the two, to put on a more macho persona for the visiting parents. The goal here is to pass Albin off as Laurent’s uncle. But every single attempt at this fails miserably, and eventually there appears to be no hope for him to pull off the role.
The only other option in sight is
for Renato to track down Laurent’s mother and have her play the exact role for
this night only. She agrees to this. The only problem is, once the dinner guests
have arrived, Albin has donned a last minute disguise that well…you will have to
see for yourself.
Criterion has crafted yet another terrific looking HD presentation. Image sharpness is at a superb high, as are both colors and overall brightness. Though I did spot one early moment where a piece of hair or string is perfect visible near the bottom of the frame, the cleaned up look is otherwise top-notch in pure Criterion fashion!
This is purely a dialogue oriented comedy, so don’t expect any strength in the realm of sound quality. That having been said, the lossless Mono track does deliver the spoken words through the channels as terrifically clear as can be expected from the fine folks at Criterion. The opening and closing scenes inside the nightclub provide decent music playback as well.
Criterion ushers in some neat supplements for this release, including a new interview with director Edouard Molinaro, as well as archival footage featuring actor Michel Serrault and Jean Poiret, the writer and star of the original stage production. Also featured is a new interview with Laurence Senelick, author of “The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre”, as well as French and U.S. Trailers. And there’s also a terrific insert booklet, like all Criterion releases, featuring an essay by critic David Ehrenstein.
Though in the end, I have to say that I do prefer the American remake simply because I was more familiar with it, it couldn’t have existed without this film, obviously. On top of that, La Cage aux Folles contains the same classic moments of hilarity, and if you’re curious like I was to see how this material first originated on film, then it’s definitely worth your while.