Get Out Your Handkerchiefs: Going Crazy, by David Bax

Sandwiched more or less right in between Louis Malle’s 1971 Murmur of the Heart and Agnes Varda’s 1988 Kung-fu Master! (aka Le petit amour) is Bertrand Blier’s 1978 Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. All three are evidence of French filmmakers’ ability to take on risque (to put it mildly) sexual content with a sometimes bracing frankness. Depending on your taste and constitution, Blier’s film might either be the most or the least shocking of these examples due to the fact that it’s so damned funny.

Gerard Depardieu stars as Raoul, the fussy husband to Solange (Carole Laure), his comically despondent wife. In an attempt to bring some joy back to her life, he sets her up with Stephane (Patrick Dewaere), a man he assumes she finds attractive (or maybe it’s just that Raoul thinks he is). What starts as a one-off experiment soon transforms into an ongoing threesome in which Solange is, at best, a begrudging participant. The final act of Get Out Your Handkerchiefs has further, more scandalous, developments that I will leave for you to discover.

To more mainstream American audiences who didn’t discover Depardieu until the 1990s, his sex symbol status among the French was just another another befuddling example of that country’s idiosyncrasy. But the slim, athletic figure he cuts in Get Out Your Handkerchiefs solves that puzzle, even though Raoul is a buffoon from the very opening scene. The less well known Dewaere, with his angular, stubbly, professorial appearance, is equally attractive. Yet it’s Laure, sublimely gorgeous despite Solange’s mousy attempts to disappear into herself, who stands out, even betwixt these two handsome idiots.

Raoul dismisses any hesitance about his wife-sharing plan with the plea, “Try to be a bit more modern.” The driving joke behind Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, though, is that his impulses are not-so-subtly born from traditionalist, patriarchal roots.

It would be enough, in that sense, that Raoul’s scheme is, in present-day terms, the domineering, heteronormative desire of a cuckold fetishist. But the sexual element of the threesome takes a backseat to the general sense of male propriety Blier is exploring. Even when he seems to be submissive, his fretting over Solange’s unhappiness stems from the too-familiar tendency of a man to assume responsibility for “his” woman’s emotions. Solange’s sadness is not hers to own; it’s a problem that he must have caused and therefore must fix. When a female passerby reprimands him, “When women cry, you never understand why,” he fails to learn any lesson.

None of this should imply to you, reader, that Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is a feminist film. Self-deprecating as it may be, it is still told entirely from a male point of view. Solange is not allowed–by the film or by Raoul and Stephane–much at all in the way of agency. We do get hints of her governing motives, though, when she seems more comfortable in the company of children or other women than she does with the two men in her life. Blier’s most damning insight comes when we realize that those men are just larger versions of boys (or the other way around). But beware; no matter how much Get Out Your Handkerchiefs mocks the patriarchy, it’s far from woke. Maybe that’s the point?

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