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  Merci la Vie No Thanks To You
Year: 1991
Director: Bertrand Blier
Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Anouk Grinberg, Michel Blanc, Jean Carmet, Annie Girardot, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Jacob, Gérard Depardieu, Thierry Frémont, François Perrot, Yves Renier, Didier Bénureau, Anouk Ferjac, Philippe Clévenot, Jacques Boudet
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Joëlle (Anouk Grinberg) has been beaten up by a man on the beach, and as she lies there in a wedding dress she feels miserable, as she has no luck with men, though there is a good reason for that. In a while, teenage Camille (Charlotte Gainsbourg) happens along pushing a shopping trolley full of various things like fish and seagulls, and when she notices Joëlle she resorts to throwing the fish over her head in an expression of disdain. The bride that wasn't gets up wondering what the big idea is, but as she is conversing she faints, and Camille places her in the trolley, pushing her along. They don't twig from this informal meeting, but they are soon to become fast friends with something to teach one another - whatever era they're in.

Merci la Vie was really the last Bertrand Blier movie to get much distribution from Western countries outside of the French-speaking ones; it caused some controversy in its native land for its inclusion of Nazi death train imagery, but that didn't translate into much reward at the box office from the curious, and though he continued to make films, they flew under the radar of all but his most dedicated followers, who were beginning to dwindle around this point. It could be he was a filmmaker most identified with the envelope-pushing work of the nineteen-seventies and -eighties and as with many of those artists he was regarded as passé by and by, yet that wouldn't take into account the way this particular effort remained extremely confrontational.

Either that or folks had lost interest in the experimental side of cinema when Merci la Vie was released, and taking the time to watch this sounded too much like hard work when there were many more far easier to consume plots out there. For a start, summarising that plot was rather difficult, not to say verging on the impossible even if you had made it to the end, since Blier was determined to catch the audience off guard, meaning just as you thought you had the movie sussed he would hare off in another direction, deliberately messing with your head. Initially it appeared to be one of his stories which would take a couple of characters and send them on a journey of some sort, in a road trip kind of way, as Camille and Joëlle set off to explore the seaside town together.

Camille complains throughout that she has to get back to her homework, but nevertheless is led astray by her new pal who reveals she has been given a special purpose once they have both seduced a painter and decorator (Thierry Frémont) in the back of a car, though not before they almost blow him up with explosives. That purpose is a directive from Doctor Warm (Gérard Depardieu, somewhat inevitably) instructing Joëlle to spread a venereal disease she has to as many men as possible; she claims to love men in spite of how badly they always treat her, not apparently putting two and two together and noticing they might not like her too much when she gives them this "super-clap" as the doctor describes it. Yet before the finale, this condition has mutated into the AIDS virus.

Just as the movie, at first a happy go lucky item of wacky surrealism, has been landed with the Nazi invasion as troops from another film break into this one and confuse matters with their death-dealing ways. Blier appeared to have something to say about seizing the day, thanking life for the opportunities that it brought, but then halfway through something terrible could have happened to him when he changed his tune and suggested that the whole of existence was one cruel joke, and any hope you had that you might enjoy the manifold wonders on offer would be dashed by the fact that there was always the possibility you would end your days immobile, having shat yourself and lost all contact with anyone who might be able to help you since they had their own issues to obsess over. Nobody wants to die, but there wasn't much point to living, not when such indignities as having an eyeball pushed inside your vagina while you were bound and spreadeagled was merely one way you could be humiliated, and there were no shortage of others. Bracing, but no wonder it was considered a turn-off.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Bertrand Blier  (1939 - )

French writer-director who rarely shies away from controversy. The son of actor Bernard Blier, who also appeared in his films, he graduated from documentaries to features and seized international attention with extreme comedy Les Valseuses. Blier then won an Oscar for Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (Preparez vos Mouchoirs), and carried on his idiosyncratically humorous style with Buffet Froid, Beau-Pere, Tenue de Soiree and Trop Belle Pour Toi. Since 1991's Merci la Vie he hasn't had much distribution outside of France, but continues to work, still finding roles for Gerard Depardieu.

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