Picks and Pans Review: The Gift

updated 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

A kind of celluloid soufflé, this French sex farce isn't perfect but it never flattens. Written and directed by Michel Lang, a Parisian who has a big following in France, it stars Pierre Mondy as the cuckolded husband (20 years' worth) of Claudia Cardinale. He is a bank functionary, with two brat kids and a back that goes out at the worst times. When he retires, his cronies pony up $1,000 for his retirement gift—the services of a jet-setting hooker, played by the deliciously sensuous Clio Goldsmith, who accompanies him by train on a business trip to Venice. She keeps her assignment a secret, so he imagines he's gotten lucky, and she finds the old dog not a bad trick himself. Mondy is delightfully kinetic in his bumbling role. And Goldsmith, the gift, is spectacular, wrapped or unwrapped. The plot accelerates to a finale in Venice, where Jacques François, as Mondy's boss, makes his move on the jilted girlfriend of Mondy's son. She rejects him. He apologizes for "brushing" her. "Your hands don't brush," she snaps. "They scrub." The humor ranges from bitter Gallic to galling. Would a director from any other culture try to squeeze a half hour of raucous film comedy from a train compartment? Lang tries, too hard sometimes. With a coup like Goldsmith, why bother with slapstick? (In French with English subtitles) (R)

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