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Mon oncle Benjamin (1969)

France, 1750. Under the reign of Louis XV, Benjamin Rathery is an out-and-out maverick, as well-known for being an inveterate womaniser as he is a doctor dedicated to treating the poor. His sister Bettine despairs of Benjamin’s reckless behaviour, especially when he draws her husband into his debauched exploits. She hasn’t yet given up hope that one day her brother will marry Arabelle, daughter of the highly respected Dr Minxit, so that he will inherit the latter’s wealthy clients. But Benjamin has no interest in this direction. His heart is set on Manette, the daughter of a modest innkeeper, but, alas, she will only give herself to him once their marriage contract has been signed and sealed. Must Benjamin give up his wayward bachelor life just so that he can bed one woman? Turning his back on money is one thing, but giving up his freedom is quite another matter…

Jacques Brel clearly relishes his role as an amiable swashbuckling Don Juan in this entertaining historical farce and throws himself into the part body and soul. The film was directed by Edouard Molinaro, who would later work with Brel on another popular comedy, L’Emmerdeur (1973), before scoring a major hit with his cult film La Cage aux folles (1978). Whilst Brel is rightly best known for his work as a singer, he was also a very capable actor with a strong screen presence, as this film amply demonstrates.

Boasting some impressive production values, Mon oncle Benjamin doesn’t take itself too seriously, and whilst the plot does drag a little in a few places, it is, overall an enjoyable romp. Admittedly, the reckless use of the whip zoom does become a little tiresome after a while, but every young filmmaker should be allowed one or two indulgences, and there are worse sins than giving your audience recurring bouts of nausea. On a more positive note, the film has an impressive cast, which includes the wonderful Bernard Blier and the beautiful Claude Jade, the latter of whom had just made a name for herself in François Truffaut’s Baisers volés (1968).