June 7, 1976
'The Last Woman':French Erotic Satire by Marco Ferreri
By VINCENT CANBY
It's not chance that Marco Ferreri, the Italian director ("The Ape Woman." "La Grande Bouffe"), has set "The Last Woman," his new French film, in a landscape composed entirely of modern factories, superhighways, shopping centers and handsome high-rise housing developments where each apartment has its own balcony (to overlook other balconies) and where the grass looks as if it had been installed by a carpet company.
There are no visual references to nature in "The Last Woman." Like a meadow that has been turned into a parking lot, nature has been cemented over, effectively sealed off. But there are cracks, and it's these cracks—terrible crevasses, really—that are the subject of Mr. Ferreri's initially buoyant and erotic comedy that becomes, at the end, a satire of such literal brutality that most people may want to be warned. The film opened yesterday at the Fine Arts.
Like "La Grande Bouffe," which was about four bourgeois gentlemen who gorge themselves to death. "The Last Woman" is, finally, easier to talk about than to watch, especially on a full stomach. It may be the year's most ferocious satire, a film that only a very sophisticated society could support, but it's also full of brilliance, especially in the performance of Géraid Depardieu, who has quite suddenly emerged as France's most talented young actor.
As Gérard in "The Last Woman," Mr. Depardieu is the thinking man's lug. Built like a truck driver who drinks too much beer, a slob with a good deal of wit, he is a primal force too powerful to be controlled by the system of checks and balances he's been equipped with. He's not stupid. He's a bunch of outmoded attitudes that can't survive in the kind of concrete landscape that is Mr. Ferreri's comic metaphor.
Gérard is a factory engineer by profession and a colossally self-assured male supremacist by nature. He lives with Pierrot, his young son who doesn't yet walk, on a high floor of a spanking-new apartment house in a flat furnished with stereos, hip posters and all sorts of superfluous time-saving gadgets, including an electric carving knife.
Some time before the start of the film Gérard's wife has walked out on him to find her own identity—which is all right with Gérard, who doesn't mind playing mother as well as father to his son and who has no trouble finding temporary mistresses. In fact, he rather likes the temporariness of his sex partners. They don't question his ego nor invade the territory he rules as a father—until the appearance of Valerie.
Valerie (Ornella Muti) is "The Last Woman," a voluptuous green-eyed beauty who teaches in the factory's nursery school. One night when Gérard goes to pick up Pierrot, he also picks up Valerie and takes her home for what he expects will be another limited liaison. But Valerie is different. Between bouts of furious love-making she begins to settle in.
In the way no other woman ever has, she also begins to invade his consciousness, which, to a Narcissus like Gérard, is somehow to diminish him. When she tells him that he never succeeds in giving her an orgasm, she says it matter-of-factly, without accusation, but the effect is eventually devastating.
When she tells him that Pierrot needs to be touched, cuddled and loved, he sees it as a threat to him. "I need to be loved," he yells at her. Finally Valerie, sweet, beautiful, apparently passive, persuades Gérard his sex is the root of his egocentricity.
"You are nothing without it," she says, which prompts Gérard to make the ultimate gesture to prove her wrong.
What is Mr. Ferreri up to? Sometimes I think I know and sometimes I'm not sure I want to. Then again I suspect that he may be the most passionately wicked satirist since Jonathan Swift. His satire is an electric carving knife that cuts two ways at once. Gérard is part buffoon, part tragic hero. Valerie is Eve, and the film, which begins as an uproariously erotic comedy, concludes as a spectacle so bloody it could send eroticism back to the closet forever.
The film is immaculately played by Mr. Depardieu, Miss Muti, Zouzou (as Gérard's first wife) and David Biffani, a little boy who apparently learned how to act even before he learned how to walk.
THE LAST WOMAN, directed by Marco Ferreri; story and screenplay (French with English subtitles) by Mr. Ferreri and Rafael Azcona; produced by Edmondo Amati; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; editor, Enzo Menicone; music, Philippe Sarde; a co-production of Productions Jacques Roitfeld (Paris) and Flaminia-Produzioni (Rome), distributed by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 111 minutes. At the Fine Arts Theater, 58th Street west of Lexingon Avenue. This film has been rated X.
Gerard . . . . . Gerard Depardieu
Valerie . . . . . Ornella Muti
Pierrot . . . . . David Biffani
Michel . . . . . Michel Piccoli
Rene . . . . . Renalo Salvatori
Gabriella . . . . . Zouzou
Benoite . . . . . Giuilana Calandra
Anne-Marie . . . . . Carole Lepers
Nathalie . . . . . Nathalie Baye
Michel's friend . . . . . Daniela Silverlo