In a bold new social experiment, a supposedly ordinary French couple, Jean-Michel (André Dussollier) and Claudine (Anémone), have been selected to take part in an examination of what makes the modern couple tick to better provide for the future. But this entails them being ordered around by the scientists and technicians as they discover on arrival at this stretch of wasteground where the laboratory is situated. No sooner are they inside than they have to strip off all their clothes and stand naked with their backs to the wall while answering questions about their lives. It is here they must exist under incredible scrutiny...
But how far can they be pushed before they snap? Actually, as this plays out it's not the couple who snap at all, but some of the citizens who have been intently watching them on television, almost as if they were jealous of the attention and wanted part of the action as well. Before you reached that commentary on the unholy attraction of being on the box there was a lot of rhetoric to wade through, and in the hands of the opinionated writer and director William Klein that was less incisive exposé and more an indigestible lump of ill-feeling about the way the world was going. It seemed as if it should be science fiction, except it didn't appear to be set in the future.
But as with all of Klein's relatively few fiction works - he was better known as an American documentary maker in France - the look of the production was very important, as you could observe by the design of the sterile home of Jean-Michel and Claudine and its up to the minute (for 1977) furnishings, which themselves become comments on society. In fact, everything here is so set on decrying the state of the world that it could be quite a modern take on the media since each aspect of the past which features a bunch of people having their lives broadcast gets lumbered with the tag of predicting reality television, even though that concept of bringing reality to TV has been with the medium for decades.
Still, it's an easy target for the bastardisation of the supposed purity of existence by technology that it quickly became a cliché in itself, though not one which is often questioned: there always had to be someone pointing out the downside. That man here was Klein, but he didn't seem that convinced the world away from the technological was much better since it would still involve humanity, of whom he appeared to have a low opinion. So the scientists here are coldhearted and manipulative, the subjects are naive for getting into the situation in the first place, all the politicians do is talk and never get anywhere, and the viewers' reactions to watching all this is less that helpful, so what did that leave? Nobody else was to be seen here.
As Klein slammed consumerism and the powers that be alike, then set his sights on the hoi polloi, this relentlessly bad-tempered take may have been intended as comedy, but there was precious little to giggle at. It might raise a wry smile but when you had the action grinding to a halt to stage a dinner table discussion on the points raised which not only included Lemmy Caution himself, Eddie Constantine, but also some Uri Geller-style spoonbending, you really had to be in a particular frame of mind to appreciate the director's haranguing tone. He was intelligent, that much was clear, but there was something so negative about his observations that it was a chore to try and engage with them, even as you enjoyed the barbs thrown up by such sequences as the public shown round the home and acting like they owned the place themselves, or the terrorists who invade near the end who are kids whose media saturation leaves them with no idea of what to do other than appear on TV, whether you chose to chew over Klein's morals was down to your tolerance barrier. Music by Michel Colombier.