In this version of a mid-life crisis story, Alain Guiraudie takes up the adventures of Armand Lacourtade (Gallic film vet Ludovic Berthillot), a well-liked and successful 40-year-old gay tractor salesmen in the South of France who falls by chance into the opportunity to try batting for the opposite team, when he rescues a 16-year-old school girl from some toughs and she falls for him.
Armand is fed up with the limited provincial gay scene and his roommate's preference for roadside tricking with decidedly older dudes. He's taken to binge eating and napping on the job and his previously very satisfied boss wants to give him a vacation. Then Armand buys off the toughs who're about to rape the sultry, dark Curly (Hafsia Herzi, a beautiful 20-something who had a key role in Abdel Kechiche's Secret of the Grain), and a world of new opportunities opens.
Before long things get complicated and then more complicated still. Armand's association with Curly draws the unwanted and decidedly disapproving attention of a tall, thin, black-suit-clad Commissioner (François Clavier), as well as Curly's mean dad (Luc Palun). Curly experiments with an aphrodisiac root (also used by out-of-control village officials) to get it up under these new circumstances, but for quite a while he and Curly are too often being harassed or pursued to be able to get it on, though when they finally do, the movie gets pretty graphic. Mad chase scenes frequently show Armand running around the southern French provincial countryside clad only in bikini briefs. For a man who's distinctly overweight, Berthillot is certainly in excellent shape. Not body-shape, stamina-shape.
Armand meanwhile is also being pursued by an older gay man, a fellow of prodigious sexual appetites who at 70 (but he looks 80!) still wants daily lovemaking, and once satisfied his wife on a daily basis (he tells us all this and more). Due to simplistic morals laws the Commissioner puts a plastic electronic tracer bracelet on Armand, and that makes the chase eventually turn into a manhunt involving cops, private citizenry, and a helicopter -- all about nothing in particular. One of the main troubles with Guiraudie's wild adventure is that arresting moments and good dialogue can't save his scenario from remaining a meaningless tangle.
Two popular outlets of French hipness, Cahiers du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles, published reviews praising Le roi de l'évasion ecstatically. "A hilarious, festive and liberating tale carried along by an exceptional cast" wrote Serge Kaganski in "Les Inrocks." "The hedonistic outlook makes for the gentlest film French cinema is capable of," raves Eugenio Renzi in Cahiers. "One leaves The King of Escape full of wonder," he goes on, "with the impression of having learned to desire all bodies." The latter comment is inspired by the final scene in which a bunch of naked fat middle aged and old gay men are all in bed cuddling.
Whether this teaches us to love, or stimulates repulsion, is another question. This is, after all, a comedy, and an oddball, sometimes shockingly crude, one at that, which often seems merely frantic and inexplicable rather than hilarious -- or liberating. It's particularly hard to perceive as liberating images of a 16-year-old girl having sex in the woods with an over-weight middle-aged man in a manner that is not to her liking. In the end, Curly doesn't get very much of value out of all this, and Armand escapes negative consequences a little too easily after his (spoiler alert!) essentially pointless experimentation has taken him pretty much back to where he started.
The positive French reactions (though of course not all were positive) can be explained when one reads another comment (from the editors of Ouest France) that Guiraudie's film style is "Rabelaisian." Through that lens, Armand's nude cavorting round the countryside begins to make sense and seem positive. However, neither Guiraudie nor his co-authors Laurent Lunetta and Frédérique Moreau is within twenty thousand leagues of being on a par with Rabelais. Lauent seems a bit too uncertain a hero to make for a true celebration of life. Call me limited, but the message I get out of this movie is that you don't know for sure if you're gay or not till you've tried straight sex; though I'm not sure any gay person needs to know this. I'm also wondering if this offhand, cliché-free celebration of gayness doesn't wind up being unintentionally homophobic. This not only isn't Rabelais; Rabelais doesn't play any more. From the modern point of view these characters are drawn too sketchily, and none of the action ever seems remotely real. Perhaps fortunately.
Opened June 15, 2009 in Paris to fair reviews. Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, March 2010.
The King of Escape
Action / Adventure / Comedy
The King of Escape
Action / Adventure / Comedy
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Armand, a man who sells farm machines in the country, is a popular middle-aged homosexual. Just as he was getting sick of life, he falls in love with a young girl called, Curlie, and goes on the run from her parents and the police.
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August 14, 2022 at 09:01 PM