When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.
La Cage aux folles
It is impossible for me, having been exposed to The Birdcage first, to not compare the original and the remake. Almost from the word go I sensed a great disparity between the two films even though the remake ended up being and uninspired copy and paste writing job. The first thing that lends itself to creating a different tone is the music composed by Ennio Morricone. The music in The Birdcage by Mark Mothersbaugh and Jonathan Tunick is forgettable seeing as I’ve seen the remake three or four times and can’t remember a single note while I’ve seen the original once and can still remember Morricone’s score.
Ennio Morricone’s gentle music takes us into a world that we shouldn’t be afraid of. The key word to thinking about his music is sensitive. It exudes softness, tenderness which is aped by the action and the actors who are not ridiculous characterizations but with real people and real emotions. Due to the fact that all scenes include practically the same dialogue it is a huge complement to Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault that they made their characters more three-dimensional and real than Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
The American interpretation of this film is also vastly different than the French. Due to the fact that this film deals with homosexuality, which is a topic that still is tinged with taboo here Americans have to turn the film into a farce of a farce. In other words the movie has to be ridiculously over-the-top to be accepted. The pathetic part of the remake is that it perpetuates stereotypes and while the stereotypes do exist (for how do stereotypes come into being?) by merely making them more human we can see beyond a stereotype to the person portrayed. A perfect example of this is the opening scene. They are the same in both films. Renato (Armand in the American version) tries to get Albin (Albert) onto the stage to perform his act. In the American version Nathan Lane makes his character seem like a whining melodramatic pain-in-the-you-know-what because of this the scene is very funny but emotionally superficial. In the French version practically the same dialogue is spoken but because of the way Michel Serrault delivers his lines and because of the more subdued expression he has on his face the words take on weight. They have meaning they come across as real concerns for the relationship as opposed to a paranoid delusion and an excuse not to go on stage. It made me believe the affair was a possibility all over again and made me forget about the son and his impending marriage.
The deception of the possibility that Renato is having an affair is aided by the son’s appearance. In the American version he was clean-cut and Ivy League here the son in full 1970s look, long hair included. La Cage aux folles in 1978, even in France, was a more progressive film depicting a gay relationship, a gay couple who had raised a son and how the couple still had to pretend in certain social situations while longing to be completely honest. By 1996 in the United States homosexuality was not such a hot topic of controversy yet a slapstick-esque context is the only way the mainstream will be able to accept gay characters. Dramas about homosexuals are sole dominion of the art houses.
This is a film that does something very difficult to do. It takes a situation that is rich with comedy and imbues it with humanity and warmth. Making this a layered comedy which is something rare regardless of the country the film is made in. La Cage aux folles is a really fun film which takes a serious look at human relationships and society’s perception of people’s lifestyles without putting any one down or getting preachy. It’s a lot of fun.