La Cage aux Folles (1978) (R)
The movie based on the play that would later be reinvented with the American movie "The Birdcage", "La Cage aux Folles" is an unapologetic, transvestite-ish, gay, humorous, satirical piece of cinema that most everyone has forgotten about.
Everything about its premise was completely brand new to the pop culture world. The tag line for the film read: the comedy that comes out of the closet! In comparison with the tagline from the American: Come as you are..."La Cage aux Folles" is still way ahead of its time.
Renato Baldi (Ugo Tognazzi) owns a night club: La Cage aux Folles, which I'm assuming probably translates to 'the birdcage'...see? Sometimes I don't even need to use Google. This night club's entertainment is provided by men dressed up as women; but don't tell Phil Robertson, because he probably doesn't know (I feel like that was a cheap shot, but hey...too bad).
The star of the show is a man named Albin (Michel Serrault) who also dresses in drag. He's a temperamental man, personifying all the stereotypical moodiness of a emotionally disturbed woman—he is the "wife" of the two men. He gets mad because Renalto didn't notice when he dieted, then he gets made because Renalto is trying to rush him...he gets emotional a lot.
Albin is a diva, but in the best possible way. The film lets him have his tantrums while gently stating that he may be over-reacting.
Renalto's son Laurent (Rémi Laurent) returns home and announces that he's getting married–there is nothing that Albin or Renalto can do about it.
So the two have no choice but to concede that their little boy is getting married. But there's a problem: the girl's parents are extremely conservative and right in the middle of a scandal. To save face, they think that marrying off their little girl to a "nice white family", the scandal will be forgotten and everyone can move on with their lives.
Let's just say that they don't know about Albin, the cross-dressing, or La Cage aux Folles.
So they set off to meet this nice family leaving Renalto and Laurent little time to scramble so they can "fix" their non-typical home.
Having first seen "The Birdcage", it's hard to get Robin Williams and Nathan Lane out of your head. Indeed, all the actors seem like the perfect fit, that is, until you see this film. Some moments work better in each film. Rémi Laurent is far better as the son than Dan Futterman. There are little moments from both films that you can stop and compare, but ultimately, it's "La Cage aux Folles" that you have to respect a little more. It doesn't hold back, it isn't shy, and it most certainly doesn't compromise its story while being funny—not that "The Birdcage" did that, this is just a little edgier.
"La Cage aux Folles" is desperate to destroy preconceived ideas that people have about drag clubs. Some of the men are straight, some of them are gay, some of them are funny, some are sad—they're people too.
Perhaps the best work to liken the film to is the more recent novel I Am Not Myself These Days. While I wasn't a huge fan of the book, it did continue the thought that people are people.
For being so lighthearted, there is a remarkably dark undertone to "La Cage aux Folles" and some images are metaphors for religious oppression, the banishment of masculinity, and denying your true self.
Renalto makes a speech to his son that gets forgotten in the mess of the events that happen later—he tells Laurent that he spent years of his life figuring out who he was and he wasn't going to flick that away for some conservative politician with hatred in his heart. Naturally, he does try to put on facade and disastrous things happen. So maybe it is better put as the tagline for "The Birdcage": Come as your are.
The two movies are both hilariously funny and full of tender, human moments. I place them as equals.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones