Closet, The (Le Placard)

Those who remember fondly Francis
Veber’s The Dinner Game from
the summer before last may be a bit disappointed in Le Placard (The
)—which has a lot of the
earlier film’s comic invention but
also, to those of us who are accustomed to Hollywood-style propaganda, enough of
an ideological edge to give it an unbalancing earnestness. Yet what seems on its
surface to be yet another manifesto by the entertainment industry on behalf of
what conservatives coyly call “the gay
lifestyle” actually has a more serious
purpose. Why among so many of those who are not gay themselves is it
that is to say fashionable, charming, interesting, fascinating, good— to
be gay? The film does not gloss over the persecution to which homosexuals have
been and still are subjected to, but its fascination with this legitimate
question shows that it is already an advance on anything we could expect from an
American film.

That François
Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) is a pathetic figure is established from the start as he
is cut out of his company’s photograph
and no one notices or cares. “I feel
bad for the guy in the red tie,” says
the photographer.

says one of Pigno’s co-workers.
being fired.”


he’s a
jerk” [the French word is actually
untranslatable for a family audience].

Pigno, the only one who is unaware of his impending fate, overhears this
exchange in the men’s room and it
proves the final straw to his load of troubles. His ex-wife, Christine
(Alexandra Vandernoot), with whom he is still in love,
doesn’t return his calls and is
dunning him for money; his only son, Franck (Stanislas Crevillén), treats
him with contempt and he appears to have no friends. As he is about to end it
all by jumping from the balcony of his modest apartment, however, a new
neighbor, Belone (Michel Aumont), persuades him not to on the grounds that he
will land on his, Belone’s, car which
it will then cost him a lot to repair. This is a nice touch as it both
reinforces our sense of Pigno’s
niceness, which invites everyone to walk all over him, and the
neighbor’s shrewdness in judging him
at sight, since he doesn’t really own
a car but knew exactly the way to prevent his suicide.

As the two men talk, Belone hatches a plot to keep
Pigno’s job. Anonymously, he will send
a doctored photo to his boss which appears to show Pigno in revealing
leatherwear at a gay bar. If his
appears to be done maliciously, it will be believed, and the company, which
makes condoms, will not dare fire him for fear of rousing the anger of gay
activists. Belone claims a certain moral standing as the author of such a prank
because he himself was dismissed from his job, back in the bad old days, for
being homosexual. Pigno is doubtful, thinking that no one will believe he is
really gay, but the plan works better than he could have hoped. He not only
keeps his job but he becomes the talk of the plant and earns the respect of
those who formerly despised him. Even his superior in the accountancy
department, the beautiful Mademoiselle Bertrand (Michèle Laroque), takes
a new interest in a man whom she would never have wanted before but who has now
been proclaimed out of her reach. Both his ex-wife and his son are similarly
fascinated and begin to want him back in their lives.

All this is predictable enough, if no less funny as the skilled M. Veber
presents it to us. The comedy of
Pigno’s inevitable but shocking outing
of himself as a heterosexual is also very nicely done. But the really
interesting thing about the movie is a sub-plot involving another scheme spun
off the first. The company prankster, Guillaume (Thierry Lhermitte), persuades a
colleague, the tough, rugby-playing Santini (Gérard Depardieu) that
his job is in danger because of
remarks he has made about the allegedly gay Pigno. The only way to save it, he
believes, is to befriend the weedy little
accountant—to wine him and dine him
and give him presents. Professing his disgust, Santini does so, but then a
strange thing happens. The unaccustomed necessity of showing affection to a
fellow human being (we observe the cold indifference with which he treats his
wife) awakens real feeling in him and he believes himself to be in love with
Pigno. When the latter naturally rebuffs his attentions, he has a nervous

The trouble with this remarkably subtle development is that it plays too
easily to the stereotype of the macho-man who is
a latent homosexual,
his true nature with a pose of exaggerated masculinity. Veber makes it too easy
for his audience to suppose that they understand Santini. Perhaps he himself
understands him in the same way. Yet in that childlike belief in a
Freudian-style psychic
lies the answer to the otherwise unanswered question of why it is cool to be
queer. For the same reason that everyone is willing to believe Pigno a
homosexual—that is, because his
exposure as one is assumed to be
malicious—we are willing to believe
that homosexuals are in touch with a
that eludes the rest of us. For who would choose to be one?
That’s why the absence of choice is
the cornerstone of the new gay credo of
orientation”—as opposed to
preference.” Here, at least, is true
psychic reality, however difficult such a thing is to get at for the rest of us.
Veber subtly mocks this belief—
without quite having the courage of his convictions.

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