Jerome Fenouic (Guy Bedos) is dining at a restaurant with his Aunt Flo (Edwige Feullère) when he becomes instantly smitten with beautiful Violette (Sophie Daumier) seated at the next table. Upon flirting her way into Jerome’s car, Violette realises she has mistaken him for the person to whom she intended to deliver an urgent message. Nevertheless they end up sharing a pleasant evening at his apartment, but the next morning Jerome discovers Violette has vanished without a trace. Searching desperately for his lost love he stumbles across an abandoned apartment and the corpse of an elderly woman surrounded by cats and with a poisoned dart in her eye. Inscrutable police Inspector Palmer (Grégoire Aslan) takes an interest in Jerome whose quest uncovers a sinister conspiracy involving wheelchair bound criminal mastermind Larsen (Roger Blin) and his violent theatre group, a guilt-ridden assassin in old lady drag, pompous guru Mr. Khouroulis (Guido Alberti) and a secret cult dedicated to the celebration of beautiful women... by cooking and eating them!
Co-screenwriters Roman Polanski and Gérard Brach adapted the novel Aimez-vous les femmes (Do You Like Women?) as a darkly comic vehicle for Guy Bedos, France’s most enduringly popular stand-up comedian, and his real-life partner Sophie Daumier. The pair were a fixture on sketch comedy shows and in the pop charts at the time. Despite Polanski’s involvement the film remains unaccountably obscure but viewed in retrospect anticipates the unique style of comedy practiced in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). Both films bear the same sinister undertones and a distinctive mix of absurdity, cruelty and slapstick that Polanski would push further with films What? (1973) and The Tenant (1976). A Taste for Women shares a familiar preoccupation with hapless heroes entrapped by eccentric bullies, sinister architecture and oppressive societies.
However, the film has a playful whimsicality to it that offsets the darker aspects. Its peculiar brand of slapstick surrealism evokes the films of Frank Tashlin and Charlie Chaplin while juxtaposed with a plot parodying another favourite of French cinefiles: Alfred Hitchcock. Hinging on a case of mistaken identity and a missing blonde, the film interweaves allusions to Vertigo (1958) and North By Northwest (1959), notably a sequence in which the villains get Jerome sloppy drunk in order to fake his suicide. Although Hitch would have likely appreciated the joke much as he did with Mel Brooks’ later, flawed tribute High Anxiety (1977) one suspects he would have been less enamoured with the deliberately meandering storyline. Truth be told the film is more intriguingly odd than consistently funny. A running gag wherein beautiful women keep throwing themselves at Jerome at inappropriate moments only to meet a violent fate is amusing at first but gradually run into the ground. Nevertheless the central love story proves surprisingly sweet.
The film greatly benefits from Bedos’ engaging performance as jittery Jerome complemented by a charming turn from Daumier who has the most enticing voice. At one point she performs a song about sharing a threesome with her twin sister whilst bound captive in a dungeon. To describe the premise as misogynistic arguably misses the point. The film seems to serve up a critique of men’s extreme infantile obsession with the female form. It also musters some moments worthy of a serious horror film, including Jerome’s grisly discovery of the old woman’s body half-ravaged by a legion of cats, and builds to a rousing if undeniably twisted climax.