We were watching an old Soviet comedy with our friends last night, and I was reminded of an item that was sitting on my blogging back-burner for a while.
Natasha and I have a pretty large collection of movies on DVDs. Not as large as some, I am sure, but still quite extensive. A large part of the collection consists of Russian musicals, comedies – and musical comedies – from 70’s-80’s, but there are also a number of French movies that were very popular in our childhood and youth. A few weeks ago, on a night that we did not have any specific plans, we decided to watch Le Jouet, a movie that I probably have not seen in twenty years (even though the DVD was acquired a long time ago).
And what do you know!? I loved it all over again!
For those who may not know this movie, The Toy (or Игрушка) is about a journalist, François Perrin, long out of work and just hired by a paper that belongs to one of the biggest magnates in France, who is strangely picked as a toy store present by the young son of the aforementioned magnate. The often imperious tycoon has a penchant for firing people on a whim, so in order not to jeopardize his job, Perrin submits to be a “toy” for the weekend. He befriends the kid, teaches him various behavioral lessons, and realizes that the boy, spoiled rotten by his estranged parents, is desperate to have someone to truly care for him. The movie’s final scene has the boy run away from his immensely rich father and cling to almost-penniless Perrin – as strong a statement as I can imagine that love and affection trumps any amount of money.
I do not intend to write a review here. The reason I had this item on my to-blog-about list is the sense of amazement of how old favorites remain such, even when they don’t neatly fit into one’s grown-up preferences.
I readily admit that, somewhat simplistically, I rate movies alongside two dimensions: Art and entertainment. I value deep moral and humane undercurrents just as the next guy, but it’s how the movie is made and how much it is entertaining that mostly counts in my book. I lately find myself gravitating towards thrillers, adventure flicks, movies that explore grand locales, and movies that are meant to be “fun” rather than “serious”, with only an occasional love story or simple human drama earning my approval. (It should be noted that although I like comedy as a genre, too much of it these days is of the dumb frat-house variety which I do not find particularly entertaining.)
Le Jouet has its share of laughs and pranks to claim bona fides as a comedy, but it is, in fact, a drama based on a comic predilection. Leaving aside the fact that I find thousand things to criticise about how any old movie is made (yes, I know, there was only so much film that you could spend in the old pre-digital days, and sometimes you just had to make do with what was already filmed, good or not; still, the obvious visual flaws or incongruities tend to stand out for me), were I to see a similar flick on the screen today, I’d likely render a “meh… it’s ok” opinion solely on the basis of the plot and the action. I might be bored.
Yet, I love Le Jouet.
It is likely that my affinity for Pierre Richard, who plays the main character and is among my all-time favorite actors, plays a part. But I can name other movies with him that I don’t care much for. It is likely that the movie score, which I inexplicably find myself humming every now and then (throughout the thirty or so years since I first heard it), has some subconscious pull for me.
What I think is most likely is that the cinematic memories of our youth are occasionally stronger than any of the likes and dislikes that we develop as adults. This was one of my favorite movies when I was 10 or 12, and it remains dear to me today.
Interesting… I believe this movie was remade in America as The Toy with Richard Pryor in the lead. I know I saw that one way back in the past, but it’s pretty hazy, probably because it wasn’t very good. Remakes, you know.
I completely agree with your idea about the cinema we loved as kids being stronger than our adult sensibilities. That certainly explains much of my “favorites” list… I think it’s because we’re more open-minded as children, more willing to be swept along no matter the film’s deficiencies. I miss that kind of experience, to be honest…
More idealistic, certainly 🙂
I know of a few other remakes of my favorite Richard’s movies, such as Father’s Day with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams or Pure Luck with Martin Short. They all incredibly suck compared to the originals, IMHO…
I find remakes in general suck. Take the remake of King Kong. I liked Peter Jackson as a director even before LOTR, but the only difference between the remake and the original was better special effects.
By the way, no insult intended, but I didn’t know there were Soviet comedies, much less that they existed on DVD.
Just as with any other industry, Vince, the Soviet Union was set “to catch and to overtake” America in the field of cinematography. If memory serves me right, sometime in the early 80’s, the total output of Soviet studios exceeded that of all major Hollywood studios combined.
All genres were covered, comedy included. Despite what Americans perceive as the horrors of the authoriatrian socialist rule, life was not altgether unhappy from mid-60’s to mid-80’s. Soviet cinema produced dozens of great comedies during that time that remain loved by those who grew up on them.
I’ll have to see if I can find some to rent, assuming they have subtitles.
They normally all have English subtitles, but I doubt that you’d find [m]any available at Blockbuster or Netflix. My DVDs are mostly from Russian book-and-video stores and directly from Russia (you need a multi-system DVD player that decodes all regions as well as PAL for that).
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