Bertrand Blier’s France is a welter of carrefours, his Pierrots are grubby knuckleheads with perpetual hard-ons (Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere). They goose middle-aged matrons, steal cars, determine a girl’s age by sniffing her culottes, and generally illustrate the old adage about there not being enough blood in the male body to run penis and brain simultaneously. Though they make do with each other when female ass is scarce, virility with the opposite sex is their biggest concern -- it’s no accident that the scrape that lands the duo a fuzzy blonde (Miou-Miou) who "spreads her legs and looks at the ceiling" is also the one that gets Dewaere shot in the cubes, failure to arouse is to macho swagger as crippling as castration. Blier’s provocation blossoms in at least one sequence, the sustained blurring of eroticism and threat as the guys terrorize their way past the bra of a lactating young mother (Brigitte Fossey): One of the film’s many return-to-the-womb intimations, staged appropriately aboard Freud’s train. Still, for all their depredations the joy-riders are supposed to be innocents, seized on occasion by the impulse to service a weathered convict (Jeanne Moreau) and shocked when violence explodes around them. Moreau’s stunning rendition of a numbed, dried-up woman reawakened to sex and horror punches a hole through the larky veneer, her hungry ménage with Depardieu and Dewaere is the check Jules and Jim wrote but never cashed. Truffaut’s roll down the hill, Godard’s camera in the shopping cart (and rear-projection highway), Capra’s hitchhiking lesson. "To keep driving until the tank is empty" is the characters’ objective, along the way there are pastorals out of Macchiaioli (or Constable, rather) and wayward bourgeois teenagers happy to be deflowered. The view of desperate braggadocio behind the "lyrical" romping is withering -- the protagonists profess to seek only the "simple pleasures," though Blier assuredly remembers Lord Byron’s dictum ("There is no sterner moralist than pleasure"). Music by Stéphane Grappelli. With Jacques Chailleux, Marco Perrin, Gérard Boucaron, and Isabelle Huppert.
--- Fernando F. Croce