Picks and Pans Review: May Fools

updated 07/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Michel Piccoli, Miou-Miou

In some ways a French equivalent of The Big Chill, this film sets an intimate gathering—a family meeting for the funeral of a matriarch and legatine consequences—against 1968's student rebellion in Paris.

American audiences won't get much of the political subtext, with its insinuating bits about the class struggle. But that other French preoccupation, the capricious nature of sex, comes across clearly enough.

The masterful Piccoli (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) plays the unmarried son of the deceased, a mildly rich landowner. He tends the vineyards and beehives, enjoys the life of a modest seigneur and carries his bicycle wherever he goes. Miou-Miou (Entre Nous) is his calloused daughter, Michel Duchaussoy his Anglicized brother. Dominique Blanc is his surly niece, Harriet (Turtle Diary) Walter his randy sister-in-law, and Bruno Carette a truck driver stranded by a gasoline shortage.

While everyone is trying to sort out the small estate and keep track of the rebellion, they're also engaging in one of those games of musical beds so popular in French films. The degree of spontaneous cynicism of all this is hinted at when one character intones, "Marriage is the tomb of love." But it's a lively film, beautifully acted (by Piccoli, Walter and Blanc in particular). Director-co-writer Louis (Au Revoir les Enfants) Malle has gone for the symphonic effect on occasion, but he knows how to do a minuet when he wants to, and this one is a graceful, jaunty turn. (In French with subtitles) (R)

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