Les bijoux de famille (1975)

Alternate Titles
Der Chauffeur von Madame West Germany, Gloria Film
Family Jewels USA
Try It, You’ll Like It USA

Between Just Jaeckin’s EMMANUELLE packing Champs Elysées theaters to the rafters and the dirty movie deluge that was just around the corner, Continental carnal cinema got a taste of what might have been had the budding genre been allowed to progress logically without stringent government interference ruining its potential. Like the head honchos of early hardcore on the other side of the pond, temporarily blinded by the alleged acceptance that came with the short-lived “Porno Chic” trend, French fornication filmmakers believed that their explicit sexual content would eventually be assimilated by mainstream entertainment. Alas, this was not to be, the country’s draconian “X Law” – slapping humongous taxes on all aspects of adult film production and distribution – to blame only in part for this evolution or rather lack thereof.

The sole directorial effort of Jean-Claude Laureux, one of France’s most highly regarded sound engineers to this very day and erstwhile cherished collaborator of the late great Louis Malle, remains an ambitious attempt to blend traditional cinema with the plentiful pulchritude and still simulated yet surprisingly graphic sexual activity allowed by recently relaxed censorship laws. By way of knee jerk reaction, the movie was briefly banned altogether by the commission for film classification until progressive Cultural Secretary of State Michel Guy overrode their decision, liberating the title for release with an 18 certificate.

This mild-mannered social satire of the country’s privileged upper middle classes, themselves close to extinction post May 1968, plays out like a mixture of neutered Claude Chabrol and French boulevard theater which once offered blue collar audiences the opportunity to poke fun at their supposed “betters”. The Lafitte household’s in an uproar as their industrial tycoon patriarch pops his clogs under suspect circumstances. A successor needs to materialize pronto to fill the void. Meanwhile, proudly proletarian family chauffeur Marcel (recognizable character actor Michel Fortin, only accorded prominent parts in skin flicks like René Gainville’s ALYSE ET CHLOE and Jean-Claude Roy’s LA MAFFIA DU PLAISIR) proves occupied with filling voids of a different nature, gradually working his way through the entire estate, starting with saucy servant Juliette, effervescently essayed by lovely Corinne O’Brien who starred in Jean-François Davy’s Q.

Fresh out of Swiss private school, daughter Marianne (fly by night sexploitation siren Elizabeth Graine a/k/a “Dorian Gray” who looks like a young Juliet Stevenson and vanished after a brush with the explicit in Roy’s LE BOUCHE-TROU) would gladly take the reins yet the family only deems this permissible should she wed company bookkeeper Julien (Jean-Gabriel Nordmann from Alain Tanner’s envelope-pushing art-house offering UNE FLAMME DANS MON COEUR) who only has eyes for reserved and well-preserved widow Hélène, a pitch-perfect performance by respected actress Françoise Brion who had already flirted with the infamous by appearing in Jess Franco’s LE MIROIR OBSCENE.

While Marianne and Juliette engage in a playful tug of war to attract the clueless Julien’s attention, capitalist propaganda spouting granddad Edmond (Alexandre Rignault, whose career extends all the way back to Jean Renoir’s LA CHIENNE from 1931) suffers a stroke playing cowboys and Indians at the local whorehouse. The sight of a buck-naked septuagenarian riding bovine Brigitte Borghese, who would make a fabulous villainess in Jean Rollin’s deliberately pulpy LES TROTTOIRS DE BANGKOK, is one not easily erased from memory, try as you might ! Watch for cameo bits from Frédérique Barral (Brigitte Maier’s naughty Amsterdam contact in Lasse Braun’s SENSATIONS) as new girl Nina, dusky skinned starlet Katy Amaizo who was in Roger Vadim’s underrated UNE FEMME FIDELE and the Lucas twins, forever appearing in tandem in films as diverse as Fellini’s CITY OF WOMEN and Ulrike Ottinger’s indescribable FREAK ORLANDO.

The old man confined to a wheelchair and reduced to staging war games under the portrait of Field Marshal Pétain with idiot grandson Antoine (a grating turn by Gaëtan Bloom, far more ingratiating as one of Claude Zidi’s LES SOUS-DOUES), all hell breaks loose as haughty Hélène succumbs to Marcel’s brutish charms, instantly turning her into a determined libertine with pronounced communist convictions, cheerfully shattering all remaining class boundaries, which former free spirit Marianne strongly disapproves of. Urging Julien, now her fiancé, to take action leads to an unexpected turn of events as a slap to the face alerts both men to their mutual attraction, making goo-goo eyes at each other in the film’s wedding picture freeze frame with all of the women sporting pregnant bellies !

Plot hums along nicely, regularly interrupted by nude gymnastics still packing a punch since they’re performed with a complete lack of inhibition by “respectable” cast members rather than porno people. Save for a few exceptions, including – ironically perhaps – Jacqueline Staup from Malle’s LACOMBE LUCIEN as brothel keeper Mme Victoire, all of them enthusiastically shed their clothes on numerous occasions with former Agnès Varda DoP Jean Orjollet’s indiscreet camera lasciviously zooming in on the good bits. Eclectic soundtrack by Maurice Lecoeur, who scored both Roy’s LES PETITES FILLES MODELES and Jean-Louis Richard’s naughty comic book adaptation THE CLICK, proves another asset, running the gamut from tentative tinkling tunes sustaining movie’s more tender moments such as Marianne and Juliette playing dress-up in the attic to chirpy Vladimir Cosma type comedy stylings. Much has been made, by way more serious-minded reviewers than myself, of the film’s return to an established order (of sorts) following its lightning bolt eruption of anarchy at Hélène’s turnabout instigation, making it very much a product of the bourgeois class it pretends to criticize and therefore to be despised. Their words, not mine.