Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie – Beau Pere (1981)

Beau Pere is the kind of movie, like Talk to Her, that makes some people uncomfortable because they find themselves understanding or even empathizing with someone that they would have otherwise condemned.  In this case, the person who inspires such emotions is the character of Remi, played by Patrick Dewaere (Going Places).  Remi finds himself in a relationship with his teenage stepdaughter Marion (Ariel Besse).  It’s not just that plot point that might bother some people, but also the way the entire story is presented.  Writer/director Bertrand Blier (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs) handled it with sensitivity and seriousness, not lurid B movie tactics.

You may be wondering why I have this in the “Could Never Be Made Today” category.  You might be saying, “Chip, that plot’s practically the movie of the week on the Lifetime channel.”  While movies about molesting fathers/stepfathers are numerous, they all follow a certain formula: predatory adult male abuses innocent young girl who would never, ever, even think about having sex if this, this man hadn’t ruined her.  Even the 1997 remake of Lolita, which was closer to the book than the 1962 original, still had Humbert as the driving force, with the character of Lolita marginally against it.

What if a movie presented the relationship as consensual?  What then?  Yes, in the eyes of the law this is an impossibility since a person who is 17 years and 364 days old is completely incapable of determining if they want to be in a relationship, while a person one day older is a fully thinking human being.  The thing is, the law doesn’t often reflect reality, just social constructs that have been put in place.

Further, what if the stepdaughter was the one to pursue the relationship, against the wishes of the stepfather?  Now we are getting into territory that is really controversial.

Remi is married to, or lives with, Martine (Nicole Garcia) – more on this is a bit.  She dies, leaving both Remi and her fourteen year old daughter Marion devastated.  They move on as best they can; Marion choosing to stay with Remi rather than go live with her biological father.

Time passes, they start to heal, and Marion starts taking over various tasks in the home that Martine used to do.  One day she finally comes out and tells Remi that she is in love with him, that she can see that he is still hurting, and that she wants to help him heal by taking over all the “duties” her mother used to do.  To say that Remi is stunned would be an understatement.  He rejects her and hopes that that is that.  It isn’t.

Marion decides to up the ante by doing things like just casually walking from the shower to her room in the nude.  Remi sends her away on a ski vacation to get her out of the house.  The thing is, he finds he misses her a lot more than he realized he would.  He finally travels to visit with her, and that is when their relationship first turns physical.  It’s not long before it is a romantic relationship for Remi, too.

While in biological years he is the adult and she is the teenager, their personalities are such that the roles are practically reversed.  She is very mature and confident.  He is immature.  I don’t mean he walks around making fart noises with his armpit.  He’s immature because he’s nearing thirty and has never really had much direction in his life.  He is an itinerant piano player.  He’s never had much ambition to even be better at this than he is.  He had mostly fallen into the relationship with Martine.

I alluded to his and Martine’s relationship above.  While the movie’s title includes the word “Pere” – French for father – and the movie’s description calls Remi Marion's stepfather, I can’t recall a single moment in the film where this is actually mentioned.  Perhaps the English subtitles removed that detail, thinking that American and British audiences would not stand for it, or perhaps it is not brought up even in the French dialogue.  You may ask why Marion would be allowed to stay with a man if he was just her mother’s live-in boyfriend, but by the same logic why would she be allowed to stay with her stepfather when her father is perfectly capable of taking her.  In the film it’s Marion who wants to stay with Remi and her father allows her to.  So – if it would make you slightly less uncomfortable if Remi was not Marion’s stepfather, the movie can be interpreted that way.

Remi and Marion have to hide their relationship, of course.  And Remi is still feeling guilty over the entire thing, too.  So guilty, perhaps, that he may be subconsciously trying to end it, even while he is falling in love with Marion.

Patrick Dewaere does a good job with playing a character that could easily be seen as reprehensible, yet one that the viewer can understand, or maybe even empathize with.  He received a Cesar (the “French Oscar”) nomination for his performance.  For me the real star of the movie, though, was Ariel Besse.  She plays Marion with a great deal of confidence that belies her years.  She actually was only 14 or 15 during filming.

Among the things her role called for were a few nude scenes.  Some people think that it’s illegal for an underage person to appear in the nude, but that is not the case.  Nudity does not equal sex.  It’s been done for decades, and not just in little, foreign films.  Some famous examples include Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet (1968), Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby (1978), Christian Slater in The Name of the Rose (1986), Thora Birch in Best Picture winner American Beauty (1999), and Keira Knightley in The Hole (2001).

It’s another aspect of the film, that when taken in combination with the others, makes this a movie that I feel studios just would not make today.  A consensual relationship between a stepfather and 14 year old stepdaughter, initiated by the stepdaughter, played by an actress of the same age, who has multiple nude scenes?  I don’t see that being greenlit, despite the fact Beau Pere was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

At the top I compared this movie to Talk to Her and I think that is apt.  While they deal with entirely different subjects, both present things in such a way that you can maybe not identify with the character, but at least realize why that character may have done the things they did, and even feel sorry for them in the aftermath.  Of course, this could make you uncomfortable.  If the concept of this movie horrifies you then you should probably skip it.  For everyone else, if you are wondering what your reaction would be on this, especially when the subject is presented with sensitivity and caring, then I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars



  1. I've never heard of this one. It's a very European subject matter I think and I think that sometimes we are more into a world of taboos now than let's say thirty years ago!

    1. I actually found it many years ago on the shelves of a store chain that has since gone out of business. It was sort of like a combination of Best Buy and Sears. I have no clue how a French film from 1981 ended up on their shelves in the 1990s, but it did.

  2. Honestly, there is no way I am going to be comfortable with a portrayal of a "consensual" sexual relationship between an adult and a 14-year-old. And the fact that she initiated it does not mitigate his guilt, in my opinion.

    That said, I read your entire review with a relatively open mind. I appreciate moral ambiguity in movies, and I enjoy films that give us the opportunity to empathize with someone whose behavior we see as reprehensible. I am intrigued, especially since you said the subject is handled sensitively. I'm not sure whether I'd give this a shot or not.

    Great review! :-) I'm looking forward to seeing what else you include in this "Couldn't Be Made Today" series.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I can't honestly remember how much I knew of the plot of this film before I watched it, so I don't know now if I was a little leery of it, or if I went in not knowing what to expect. Talk To Her certainly surprised me, and I consider the level of moral ambiguity in that film to be similar to Beau Pere.