Title: Max, Mon Amour
Country: France, USA
Language: French, English
Director: Nagisa Ôshima
Music: Michel Portal
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
MAX, MON AMOUR received a tepid reaction when it debuted in Cannes in 1986, a French-American co-production under the rein of the late Japanese provocateur Nagisa Ôshima (1932-2013), which would become his penultimate feature film.
Since then, it has become a succès de scandale which is less being watched than hyped due to its subversive content, but in fact, most of the time, it suffices as a tongue-in-cheek comedy, a marital satire borne out of Jean-Claude Carrière’s urtext, Peter Jones (Higgins) is a liberal-minded British diplomat working and living in Paris, one day, to his utter dismay, he finds out the paramour of his wife Margaret (Rampling), is a male chimpanzee named Max, beggar belief, the couple decides to try out a kind of ménage-à-trois by bringing Max into their official residence, where also lives their towhead school-age son Nelson (Hovik), and believe it or not, in the end of the story, their co-habitation actually works.
Cagey about the salacious details of the relationship between Margaret and her “supposed” primate lover, Ôshima sides with the husband’s point-of-view to parse the couple’s tug-of-war, firstly, Peter takes up the gauntlet to show his magnanimity by accepting the situation without letting it get under his skin, then, driven by curiosity and jealousy, his attitude towards Max seesaws between hostility and respectable concern, an experiment of corroborating the inter-species sexual act is a bust, whereas an episode of shotgun scare is just a cheeky practice of cheap tension.
It is an immoral cock-and-bull story, menace is palpable, but vice has never descended into the picture and what sagaciously affirming is the film’s brazen stance on the dynamism between the couple, it is always Margaret who has the say-so in their states of affairs, however preposterous and quixotic, there is a deep respect unites them as an entity, Peter stoutly fights her corner in the face of extrinsic parties, whether it is a zoologist or a neuropsychologist, accordingly, she also quite frank about her feelings, even stays on friendly terms with Peter’s secretary-cum-lover Camille (a gratingly loud Diana Quick).
It is a surprise that Ôshima chooses not to go out on a limb in salting the plot by bestowing Max with a feral complexion, alternatively played by real chimps and stunts in verisimilar costumes (solely by this reviewer’s reckoning), Max is presented as a meek pet, not dangerous, sulky at most, albeit his human-like size, even becomes mawkishly lovelorn and loses his appetite when Margaret is absent. Granted, there is a touching and tender naiveness seething beneath its surrealistic premise, which also is not exactly congruent with Ôshima’s make-up if one might venture to surmise.
Both Rampling and Higgins tackle the thorny subject with bravura, what percolates from their collective effort is a beguilingly unfeigned sophistication stemming from a bourgeois background, and Ôshima conspiratorially sends up their caprices with deadpan seriousness, not to mention a non sequitur triumph appended to the part where Max momentarily goes missing in the woods.
Ultimately, MAX, MON AMOUR doesn’t come to provoke moralists, but offers a keyhole for the audience to observe a behavioral pattern says as much of living beings’ universality as of their idiosyncrasy, the point is made, but reverberations are somewhat deadened when Ôshima settles for a middle road between “funny and die” in his overall approach.
referential point: Ôshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE (1983, 8.5/10)