French Anthology Package is Limp Despite Raquel Welch, Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Luc Godard
DIRECTED BY CLAUDE AUTANT-LARA, MAURO BOLOGNINI, PHILIPPE DE BROCA, JEAN-LUC GODARD, FRANCO INDOVINA and MICHAEL PFLEGHAR/FRENCH/1967
STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 27, 2018/KINO CLASSICS
Here we have a generally comedic anthology film – in this case, six entirely different short films by separate filmmakers – rooted in that always uproarious subject, prostitution. Specifically, prostitution through the ages.
In true male-gaze cinema fashion, the prostitutes are portrayed by some of the most strikingly beautiful actresses of all time. (Raquel Welch, Anna Karina, Jeanne Moreau, just to name three). The filmmakers are, according to the packaging blurb, “six of Europe’s finest directors”. 2018 translation: Jean-Luc Godard, and five other forgotten directors. The johns, almost entirely dopey, are portrayed by no one of note.
Anthology films (these multi-director endeavors have also been referred to as “package films”) are so very rarely solid; after sitting through one, one often wonders why the form has persisted, steadily if never prolifically, through the history of the medium.
5/6ths of The Oldest Profession is a dopey hodgepodge of the most disposable variety, save the participation of a few era-notables, primarily the recently departed Jeanne Moreau, and a very game Raquel Welch.
Then one may remember the talent list the film boasts, something which couldn’t help but prove irresistible. Any anthology film worth its celluloid understands that the notion of creative freedom within its unifying theme is what lures the name talent; the promise of name talent playing in whatever the determined thematic sandbox is what lures the audience. That, and in this case, sexy sex. Disappointing to some, then, that the six individual short films that make up the whole of The Oldest Profession (Le plus vieux métier du monde) are always either sexy or sexual, but almost never both at the same time.
5/6ths of The Oldest Profession is a dopey hodgepodge of the most disposable variety, save the participation of a few era-notables, primarily the recently departed Jeanne Moreau, and a very game Raquel Welch. The first five short films are awash in the worst kind of Casino Royale 1967-ism, though still somehow managing to keep its head up in that particular high production/squandered talent/unfunny farcical quicksand.
Whether it’s Franco Indovina’s opening chapter, set in the Stone Age and detailing a Frankie & Annette-style prehistoric beach party romp (not as fun as it sounds) that gives way to the origin of garish call-girl makeup, or Mauro Bolognini’s zany Roman Emperor who’s promising new lady of the night turns out to be (gasp!) his wife, these mini-movies are never worthwhile cinematic foreplay leading up to Jean-Luc Godard’s incongruous if far more interesting big finisher. (Though Philipe de Broca’s “Mademoiselle Mimi” is almost worth it purely for the sight of Jeanne Moreau in an insanely large pink hat that’s ever threatening to devour her upper half). It’s never as vapidly exhausting as, say, What’s New, Pussycat?, although sometimes only because the individual films end every fifteen or twenty minutes.
Then there’s the final chapter, Godard’s “Anticipation”, which chronicles the oldest profession “ in the Space Age”. The difference in tone, approach, sophistication and intelligence on display in this entry is indeed light years ahead of its own five film-mates. Shot in austere greyscale with droning voiceover throughout, Godard’s signature aural abrasions, jarring use of provocative still images and bleak emotional detachment are more at home here than many of his other films of the era. It is, after all, the future. Although the future looks an awful lot like an airport, complete with ordinary TWA passenger jets supposedly bringing people in from “Galaxy 4”. Since time goes by more slowly in Galaxy 4, our young male protagonist speaks with the staggered cadence of a Lord of the Rings Ent. When the prostitute he requests turns out to be a dud, a replacement, played by radiant Godard muse Anna Karina, is escorted to his hotel room. Once there, he’s astonished to learn that she can talk and relate to him, but refuses to undress and get physical. The resolution is also a bit of a dud, though one suspects that Godard must found the whole scenario ludicrous fun. “Anticipation” is, in every way, the ugly duckling of this gaggle, reason enough to sit through the rest.
The list of Blu-Ray extras may not be long, but for whatever it may be worth, it’s got it where it counts. Besides the original French trailer, there’s also a ninety-three minute English dubbed U.S. release print of the film (this dubbing, it must be said, is quite commendable – as far as such things go). Notably, the transfer quality of this alternate cut matches the impressive restored look of the full version, as though someone went to the effort to use it in creation of a new match-edit. Whatever the case, it must be said that the U.S. version is, if nothing else, mercifully shorter. The cuts are telling, flagging up Western taboos besides just eliminated dull patches. With the exception of Godard’s entry, which has brief full frontal nudity, there’s no explicit content to be done away with. Rather, the cuts do away with much of the European gender comparison observations while clinging to any farcical moments. Subtext may be sacrificed in favor of brevity, but in the case of this movie, it’s not a dire proposition.
Neither, then, is the whole of The Oldest Profession. In the end, Godard emerges the lone artistic interest while Raquel Welch emerges a goddess. These, and Jeanne Moreau’s huge hat, are your reasons for buying into this package. Every aspect of The Oldest Profession is glaringly dated, it’s only a question of just how embarrassingly so. Therefore, despite some game performances and the involvement of “six of Europe’s finest directors”, this film, unlike what’s said about actual prostitutes, has in no way aged into respectability.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray contains no extras, commentary track or otherwise. The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality, but are included only to represent the film itself.