A waned Japanese New Wave washes up the Seine

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I see some continuity between the homoerotic obsessions in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983) and “Gohatto” (1999), although there was years between their making a major stroke (the first of many). And there was also another feature film in between, “Max, Mon Amour” (1986) filmed in French and English in Paris. It has an obsession that seems more one of affect than of sexuality, one that is heterosexual, but inter-species.

The cool, elegant Charlotte Rampling plays Margaret, the wife of a British diplomat, Peter Hones, played by a fairly cool and chic Anthony Higgins. The couple has a winsome, blond son, Nelson (Christopher Hovik). Peter wants to know who his wife goes to meet every afternoon except Sunday.

The detective he hires (director Pierre Étaix) reports the location of an apartment she rents, but from which no one other than Margaret emerges. Peter has a key made, and discovers that Margaret is visiting (and keeping) a chimpanzee named Max.


Peter tries to accommodate that his wife is in love with a chimpanzee. Their son Nelson has less (well, no) problem with that. Other than flickers of jealousy and Peter picking up a prostitute to try to mate with Max, the movie seems like it could have been a Disney product. It is far more difficult to get the mind around this being a movie by the auteur of “In the Realm of the Senses,” etc. That extreme display of eroticism, and “Empire of Passion” were partly French co-productions, and the similarities of early Japanese New Wave and French New Wave are undeniable (though how much Ôshima was influenced by Godard, how much he was independently doing some of the same things and the same time during the early 1960s is unclear). For “Max,” Ôshima had the cinematographer of early Godard movies (not least, “Breathless”), Raoul Coutard, though there are no jump cuts, and the look of a haute bourgeois apartment is pre-New Wave.

That the screenplay was co-written by Jean-Claude Carriere, who frequently collaborated with Luis Bunuel made some people liken “Max” to satires such as “The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie,” though I don’t see it. Maybe the fatuous psychiatrist?

The charming pet and boy (even if the primary relationship is the boy’s mother and the abimal) story, especially the second return of Max, has the look and feel of a Disney movie of the early 1960s. IMHO Ôshima frequently lost sight of the point of his films. A fable needs a point, and an Ôshima film needs more than tolerance for the unusual.

The DVD had no bonus features, not even a trailer.


©2016, Stephen O. Murray


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