Comfortable and Furious

Dirty Old Men: Part 4

Tony Leung Ka-fai and Jane March in The Lover (1992)

I still remember the hullabaloo about March’s debut in which it was rumored (like Christie and Sutherland two decades earlier in Don’t Look Now) that she was actually doing it. Amazing, really, that the public so often gets sucked into such nonsense. March plays a fifteen-year-old, poverty-stricken schoolgirl who gets entangled with a Chinese man more than twice her age. The Lover is nicely shot but a bit arty with an unnecessary voiceover from an elderly March (voiced by Jeanne Moreau) looking back at the affair. There’s not enough meat on the bone to justify its near two-hour runtime, resulting in it slipping into a torpid final half an hour.

How do they meet? On a ferry in the middle of the Mekong River in 1929 Vietnam as she returns to boarding school. Gotta admit, Leung Ka-fai’s approach is pretty weak. He offers her a smoke and can only manage such guff as: “I like your hat.” Somehow it does the trick and she accepts his offer of a lift to Saigon. His conversation does not improve during the drive. In fact, for well over an hour (until he slaps her, throws her on the bed and half-rapes her) he’s polite and very, very dull.

Is our dirty old man rich, powerful, famous or artistic? He’s wealthy, all right, so rich that he’s turned into a jobless loafer. He also owns the only car in Saigon (a super-fancy, chauffeur-driven, French model). Imagine that – you could live in that teeming city and have a really crap ride like a Citroen 2CV or a three-wheel Robin Reliant and the girls would still go ga-ga over you because all the other boys only have a water buffalo.

How do you make a much younger chick fall in love with you? See above. Once you’ve got her in your gorgeous car, just sit in the back together, engage in banal conversation, and eventually stroke her little finger as it rests on the leather seat. Easy-peesy. Then hang around her school, continuing to subtly flaunt your wealth.

Do they do it? Repeatedly. As usual, it’s the girl that does all the running. She lies about her age and does her best to help him overcome his nervousness in the bedroom. “You’re too little,” he tells her. “I can’t.” This confession only prompts her to unbutton his trousers.

Do mummy and daddy object? Daddy’s dead. Mummy tolerates the ‘friendship’ because Leung Ka-fai pays off some of her debts. Opium-addicted, beastly big brother is less keen, though, and accuses March of being a whore. He sniffs her panties and concludes: “It smells of Chinese.”

Nudity: Explicit. Even with her hamster-like incisors, the pig-tailed March (17, playing 15) is some honey, but I could have done without the repeated sight of Leung Ka-fai’s taut, hairless buttocks bobbing away between her legs.

Key speech about the age gap: There isn’t one. He’s not bothered, neither is she. They can’t get married, though, because Chinese tradition insists the girl must be a virgin. Oh, and he’s also betrothed to someone else. The main objection is mired in racism on both sides, exemplified by March’s fellow students shunning her. “They say I’m a slut who goes to the shady part of town to have her body fondled by a Chinaman,” she says. Chin up, girl, we’ve all done that.

Most embarrassing bit: The virginal March fantasizing about being a hooker. “It’s always appealed to me to go with men you don’t know,” she tells a girlfriend lying on the bed alongside her. “You don’t even see them. Nothing. Never know their face.” Her mate then asks if all women are like that. “Yes,” March confidently replies. “Every woman.” Hmm, and there was me thinking teenage girls fantasize about being wooed by a prince or running off hand in hand with a pop star when in actual fact they wanna be porked for money in the street.

Do they live happily ever after? Nope. March’s career didn’t fare much better, either. After grasping Bruce Willis’ cock in her next flick, the similarly controversial and much derided Color of Night, she was basically never heard of again.

Bruno Cremer and Vanessa Paradis in Noce Blanche (1989)

I remember being at a mate’s house in 1987 when Vanessa Paradis’ hit single Joe le Taxi came on a crappy ITV chart show. She was fourteen, dressed in blue jeans and a revealing white top, and swaying so hypnotically that I was transfixed. Given I was only fifteen myself, my ‘appreciation’ felt entirely natural, but all these decades later I’ve never forgotten her combination of beauty, elegance, sex appeal and sophistication. She was classy, you know, in a way that the girls at school could only dream about, especially Mary Williams with her cold sore, stringy hair, thirty-a-day habit and holed tights. Hence, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Paradis went onto a successful career that encompassed music, movies, high-profile romances and being oblivious of my pathetic existence. Neither was it a surprise that I ended up with Mary Williams.

In her cinematic debut Noce Blanche (White Wedding) Paradis won a César Award for Most Promising Actress. Fair enough, coz she’s easily the best thing about this stilted, awkward flick that centers on obsessive love. It gets my vote as the most ludicrous of these May-December romances.

How do they meet? Paradis is Cremer’s troubled, but brilliant seventeen-year-old philosophy student.

Is our dirty old man rich, powerful, famous or artistic? As is the norm, the fifty-odd Cremer is at the very least comfortably off. He lives in a farmhouse with a lovely, younger wife who looks a bit like Catherine Zeta-Jones. He’s also an author. Of course, Paradis reads his ‘beautiful’ book.

How do you make a much younger chick fall in love with you? With an act of kindness. Cremer is initially rude and unsympathetic to Paradis, a student who is driving all the teachers mad with her tardiness, absenteeism and lack of focus. He tells her off in class for turning up forty-five minutes late and throws her out, only to afterward find her passed out at a bus stop at lunchtime as he drives home. He takes her back to her place. Bingo!

Do they do it? Oh yes, although thankfully we don’t have to endure the sight of the paunchy, hook-nosed Cremer in the buff. He even manages to screw her off-screen in a classroom.

Do mummy and daddy object? Her ‘bitch’ mother is a suicidal basket case in a different part of the country. Her neglectful dad also lives nowhere near.

Nudity: Paradis (16, playing 17) removes her clothes within five minutes of the film’s start in a typically unbelievable scene. Cremer takes her home and she strips to get into bed. I don’t think so. When he comes back after school she gives him the full eyeful and parades around naked. What teenage girl is going to do this in front of her teacher, especially as he’s not long given her a public dressing down? We later learn Paradis is a former drug-addicted child hooker so maybe that explains her casual attitude toward nudity, but this nugget of info is as lazily developed as everything else.

Key speech about the age gap: “I love you whether you’re old, fat, skinny or sick. It won’t change anything. It’s deeply rooted in me… I’ll pretend to be your daughter. Or hide. I’ll live like a recluse. I’ve no pride left as long as I’m with you.” Paradis trots out a fair amount of (male-penned) crap in this flick, leaving a gloomy Cremer to hit the nail on the head: “No one will ever condone a teacher my age seeing his student, especially since you’re a minor.”

Most embarrassing bit: Like Nastassja Kinski, Paradis possesses a finely etched face, porcelain skin, bewitching eyes, an innate dignity and an ethereal presence, the sort of combination that only pops up once in ten million. (You’re just like an angel/Your skin makes me cry…) For her to fling herself at an overweight, married guy three times her age is beyond daft. Not only that, but Cremer lacks charisma, good looks and humor. His nose is almost as big as her head. He’s not even interesting. This doesn’t stop Paradis (during her first seduction) unbuttoning her blouse, placing his hands on the small of her back and whispering: “Come on, don’t be afraid.” Cue lushly scored, post-coital shots of Cremer rowing her along a sun-dappled lake. To be fair to Cremer, though, he does look like he wants to be elsewhere during just about every romantic interaction. I was also amused by the throwaway line toward the end about him getting rebuked after being caught fucking her on school premises. Oh, how times have changed.

Do they live happily ever after? Cripes, no! The ending is just as silly as everything that goes before it, introducing an element of tragedy that is most definitely not earned.

Gerard Cox and Marina de Graaf in The Debut (1977)

Meet Dirty Dog #2. Stepfather’s Rémi knew he was doing wrong when he started shagging his underage stepdaughter, but it never even occurs to the 41-year-old married Cox that bonking a long-time mate’s fourteen-year-old daughter is a tad uncouth. That’s some brass balls, leaving me unsure which of our dirty dogs is the worst.

Still, I like this Dutch effort. Perhaps that’s because it’s written and directed by a woman, and so centers on the girl. The seventeen-year-old De Graaf puts in a convincing shift, even if she does look a wee bit older than her character. And so we get the tantrums, the enthusiasm, the reckless spontaneity, the cruelty, the energy, the chocolate-scoffing sulks, the silliness, the capriciousness and all the rest. Other performances are also good and nice touches abound.

How do they meet? Cox and his wife are old friends of the family and have just returned to the Netherlands from Zambia after a seven-year absence. Not that de Graaf can remember him. When he picks her up and twirls her at the airport she complains she’s ‘not a little girl anymore’. This is a fair call and adroitly demonstrated over the next eighty minutes or so.

Is our dirty old man rich, powerful, famous or artistic? Cox is clearly not short of a bob or two, often buying de Graaf gifts and paying for restaurants and trips, but is otherwise an ordinary Joe. 

How do you make a much younger chick fall in love with you? This is one of Debut’s more puzzling aspects. The bespectacled, chain-smoking Cox might still be slim and have kept his (gray) hair, but I wouldn’t call him handsome. He also looks closer to fifty than forty and dresses very conservatively. Perhaps the fact he’s arrived from Africa makes him seem exotic and sophisticated, but he appears to win de Graaf’s heart during an apartment-hunting trip in which they jointly take the piss out of a gay, pretentious real estate agent, a sequence that suggests he’s still young at heart. Childish, even. Not long afterward she’s writing his name in the condensation on a mirror, they go for a stroll and piggyback along the beach, and then they’re camped in the middle of Sweaty Fuck Central.

Do they do it? Frequently. Firstly, they break into her school gym for a bit of trampolining foreplay which, when I think about it, is a bit icky. They even have a dirty weekend in neighboring Belgium. All the way through Cox doesn’t exhibit the slightest twinge of conscience about cheating on his wife or taking the virginity of an underage girl. He is one guilt-free fucker.

Do mummy and daddy object? Another interesting facet. The Debut presents a progressive society in which the permanently braless de Graaf and her best friend dress up as unmarried pregnant angels during a school Christmas play and sing about abortion with the full blessing of their drama teacher. At home de Graaf and her mum don’t think twice about being fully naked in front of each other. Contact with porn is no big deal. Neither is public nudity. Mummy doesn’t bat an eyelid about her request to go on the pill. Neither parent objects to her attending an all-night party.

However, when caught stealing contraceptives from her doctor father’s study, he immediately calls in his wife to discuss their daughter’s ‘newest toy.’ The mother, however, bizarrely doesn’t object. “There’s nothing wrong,” she insists before he points out de Graaf is far too young, his moral opposition and all the potential health complications. The mother then arranges for de Graaf to get the pill without even discussing who she’s fucking during a scene in which her daughter has wonkily covered her face in lipstick (a gift from Cox). The badly applied makeup suggests de Graaf is cluelessly playing at being a grown-up. The mother, of course, doesn’t even ask why she’s defaced herself. Is it me or is this lax parenting? Or maybe it’s just another case of those progressive, open-minded Europeans. Oh well, at least Dutch men have the decency not to walk around arm in arm.

Nudity: Frequent and explicit. De Graaf is blonde, pigtailed and with a dimpled chin. She also has the sort of splendid breasts (plump but firm) that routinely prompted me to stand on my bed and salute. In fact, her nudity is so gratuitous that I almost feel compelled to condemn such exploitation. Then again, who the hell am I kidding? Cox also deserves a mention for discreetly understanding what is required by doing his best not to bare any wrinkly or sagging bits.

Key speech about the age gap: De Graaf and Cox never discuss the 27-year age difference, even when a shop assistant refers to the youngster as his daughter. It’s left to de Graaf’s best friend to voice condemnation, clearly unsettled when de Graaf reveals that her lover is a married man. “You can’t let an old fart take you to a hotel room,” she cries. “Yuck! Old man fucker!”

Most embarrassing bit: Well, I was gonna say Cox striding through events overwhelmingly untroubled by anything approaching scruples, but it’s probably the scene in which de Graaf takes him to a disco. Her pogo-style dancing is awful, so bad that Cox wisely refuses to go anywhere near her before dragging her outside. “I don’t want you to dance like that,” he tells her. Well said, that man.Do they live happily ever after? As is common with this kind of tale, the man gets away scot-free and the girl is left to pick up the pieces. The Debut is a short, eye-opening watch, partly because it taps into the way twentieth-century flicks present such vastly differing attitudes and behavior, despite only being assembled a short time ago.






2 responses to “Dirty Old Men: Part 4”

  1. John Welsh Avatar

    The Lover. My, what a self-righteous pussy you are. [Editor’s Note: I hope you’re talkiing about the movie, and not our Dear Dave] Sex obsessed like most prudes. You neglected to mention the film is based on an autographical novel by Marguerite Duras (thank you for pointing the way to such a wonderful writer).
    What is it that makes “The Chinese Man” a “dirty old man”? Age difference? During the filming of High Noon Gary Cooper was almost thirty years older than Grace Kelley and the rumor is they were an item. He was only 15 years older than Ingrid Bergman while shooting For Whom the Bell Tolls (don’t bother to tell us you don’t like Hemingway, nobody cares). Was Coop a dirty old man?
    Is sex dirty?
    What does Jane March’s lack of career success have to with the movie, or the subject line? Critical thinkers would like to know.

  2. Don Avatar

    Another fine review, thanks you!

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