And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen… (review)

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And Now for Something Completely Indifferent

It’s entirely possible that Claude Lelouch’s ludicrous And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen… was stitched together out of lost episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, circa-1976 TV ads for cheap French perfume, and late-night infomercials for CD compilations of smooth jazz. A small slice of the film is thus quite amusing, in an unintentional way, for Monty Python fans, but anyone not consuming the recommended daily allowance of pseudoromantic soft-focus advertising would do just as well to watch more basic cable.

That Lelouch looted the BBC archives seems to be the only explanation for the jewel thief Valentin Valentin (Jeremy Irons: The Time Machine, Longitude), who disguises himself as elderly gents with patently fake moustaches or as shockingly unconvincing wealthy widows and engages boutique owners in blithe burlesques of stick-’em-up banter. “You don’t look terrified,” says Valentin, brandishing his gun in a nudge to the Bulgari manager to play along. “Oh, I am,” says the grinning Bulgari manager, barely containing snickers, “very terrified.” And somewhere John Cleese and Michael Palin are letting loose an indignant, “Hey! Lelouch stole that from us!” (“No I didn’t,” Lelouch says. “Yes you did,” say Cleese and Palin. “No I didn’t!” “Yes you did!” as the Pythons in tea-drinking-granny drag beat up on Lelouch in a dark alley.)

That Lelouch appears to have a greater interest in pitching a product than telling a story is surely the only way to understand why the lounge singer Jane Lester (Patricia Kaas) is shot like she’s selling us her albums — indeed, Kaas, a recording artist making her acting debut here, is actually apparently world famous in France. She gazes seductively up at the camera through her eyelashes and lounges atop pianos, and Lelouch gets all creamy and dreamy with her — he’s either in love with her himself, or he wants us to run right to our phones and dial that 800 number and order The Best of Jane Lester on two CDs for $19.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling, rush delivery available.

There’s also some business with a racing boat that Valentin buys — a lifelong dream — that plays like an aftershave commercial, all bracing ocean spray in your face like Old Spice after a really close shave. And that’s on top of the utterly inexplicable bit about a Moroccan doctor and his identical twin brother who’s also a doctor and a pharmacist, and the one actor who plays both parts isn’t Terry Gilliam but easily could have been. One would have to be in awe of how Lelouch so inadequately combines British satire and American advertising in a French film if the results weren’t even worth that minor effort.

Of course, it’s also entirely possible that Lelouch is attempting to be far cleverer and far more literary than it seems at first glance. See, Valentin suffers from blackouts — he wanders around crashing his boat into other boats, forgetting things that he may or may not have stolen. And Jane, too, blacks out regularly — she forgets lyrics and strays away from the band in the middle of performances. The two meet in Morocco, encountering the identical doctors and downing identical blue pills for their identical maladies, and one can’t help but think: Wait. Are we supposed to suspect that Valentin is a figment of Jane’s imagination? That Jane is a figment of Valentin’s? That one or the other or both are merely dreaming the entire scenario?

Surely, all the melodramatic bunk about lost souls and the ache of heartbreak and mystical Moroccan spirits is intended to be more than mere artsy melodramatic bunk. Surely we’re intended to take away something about the mysteries of love and modern ennui and the excitement of being a chanteuse and/or a jewel thief?

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen… is nothing more than a collective fever dream the Pythons had after writing “The Bruces’ Philosophy Song” and before conceiving that sketch in which the coal miner screams at his playwright father, “One day you’ll realize there’s more to life than culture… There’s dirt and smoke and good honest sweat!!” and the mom acknowledges how this disconnect might work as a play that “could express a vital theme of our age.”

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