This is both the third part of Françoise Hardy on Film and also a Serge Gainsbourg film review rolled into one, as they both feature in this Christmas special film from Dim Dam Dom. Dim Dam Dom was a French TV series, running once a month on a Sunday, aimed mainly at women but also with themes that might be of interest to men too (Dim = dimanche / Sunday; Dam = dames / women; Dom = d’hommes / men). It ran between 1965 and 1970 and it was a very stylish TV show, consisting mainly of music, with each segment being introduced by a presenter (usually a female singer or actress) – there is one particularly mischievous episode of Dim Dam Dom (10 March 1968) where the presenter keeps interrupting a recording of the singer PP Arnold apparently laughing at the fact that her name is PP (or pipi, meaning wee in English); very infantile but also very funny. As I recall it’s the same episode where they keep inserting the long “oooouuuu” build up to Michel Polnareff’s Y’a qu’un ch’veu into other people’s recordings, like The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. That episode is well worth a watch – especially because it includes Serge Gainsbourg looking gorgeous and performing the wonderfully sinister Monsieur William – although inexplicably it seems to have an agricultural theme and the farmyard animals they had in the studio were severely manhandled on occasion (I was very upset about one of the male dancers pulling a pig around by its tail). More amusingly, Jacques Dutronc was chased around the studio by a cow!
Anyway, I’m digressing… back to this particular episode of Dim Dam Dom and the Christmas film Le lapin de Noël (The Christmas Bunny):
Le lapin de Noël (first screened 10 December 1967, dir Georges Dumoulin)
Cast: Jean Rochefort = Taxi driver / Grégoire Alexandrovich, Prince Potemkine; Haydée Politoff = Véronique; France Gall = Traffic policewoman; Françoise Hardy = Assistant to the Chief of Police and expert in torture; Serge Gainsbourg = Russian roulette player; Hugues Aufray = Prisoner; Annie Philippe = Prisoner; Cathy Rosier = Glamorous concierge; Régine = Lady in Tsarevitch club; Jean Yanne = Man who identifies Anastasia; Fernando Arrabal = Chief of Police; Zouzou = ?; Dani = Lady with a whip; Les Charlots = The gang moving the clock.
Summary of story: Le lapin de Noël is a Franco-Russian surrealistic Christmas story about a young girl called Véronique (played by the lovely Haydée Politoff) and the preposterous Christmas Eve she spends trying to get to the Bibliothèque Nationale but instead being taken on a series of strange adventures through space and time by a Russian taxi driver (Jean Rochefort).
Of course, I bought this film – which is available to download from the INA website for just €2,99, but be warned that there are no English subtitles – because it features Serge and Françoise, but I was rather excited to discover that I might have found a new hero in the form of the film’s writer Roland Topor. It’s amazing how, suddenly, it dawns on you that someone has been involved in loads of things you are interested in: Topor wrote Le Locataire chimérique which was adapted for the cinema as The Tenant by Roman Polanski; he collaborated with René Laloux on La Planète Sauvage ; he played the role of Renfield in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre alongside one of my other film heroes, Klaus Kinski; he designed the magic lantern in Fellini’s Casanova; he also designed the credits and appeared as an actor in William Klein’s Qui êtes-vous Polly Magoo?, amongst many more things.
It’s interesting that Topor was involved in Qui êtes-vous Polly Magoo? because that’s not the only coincidence: Jean Rochefort also appeared in Polly Magoo (and his character was called Grégoire in both films– in Polly Magoo he was Grégoire Pecque!), as did Arrabal (who co-founded the Panic Movement with Roland Topor and Alejandro Jodorowsky, and even more exciting for me is the fact that he was in Michel Houellebecq’s La possibilité d’une île). Whilst the two films are not overly similar, there is a similarity in the feel of the films – the female protagonist adopting different wigs throughout; the question mark over who the female protagonist is; a Russian prince pursuing the female protagonist. Maybe this is all just in my imagination, but even on my first viewing of Le lapin de Noël I was immediately reminded of Qui êtes-vous Polly Magoo?
*SPOILER WARNING* contains plot details
The story is rather surreal anyway, but with no English subtitles at times I’m not totally sure I understood everything and I’ve probably missed some of the subtleties of the dialogue. Anyway, here’s my vague understanding of the film:
Véronique wakes up on Christmas Eve and gets herself ready to go out to the Bibliothèque Nationale. Downstairs she bumps into her glamorous concierge:
Outside she waits to cross the road and is assisted by the traffic policewoman:
Then she is thrown off the bus by a stern conductress who seems to be saying the bus is in the service of his majesty:
(Is this Zouzou? I don’t think it is, but if it’s not then I’m not sure where Zouzou appears in the film as I have now watched it three times and could not recognise her anywhere)
Finally Véronique decides to take a taxi instead and is picked up by a Russian taxi driver. On the journey she reads her newspaper and asks the taxi driver to turn the radio down. The taxi driver turns the radio up and as Véronique looks up from her paper she realises that it’s not the radio she is hearing but a Russian band in the street:
She gets out of the car and magically appears in a new wig and outfit. The taxi driver addresses her as Catherine II of Russia, but she corrects him and tells him she is Véronique. He seems to ignore this and tells her he is Grégoire Alexandrovich, Prince Potemkine. It seems that time is on the blink; Véronique thinks they are in 1967 but Grégoire clearly thinks they are in the 18th century.
Some Russian dancers appear:
Then their journey continues, by horse and carriage rather than taxi, and on the way they have bizarre encounters with two men with bandaged heads:
With a gang of chained men (Les Charlots singing Hey Max) pulling a clock along and being whipped by Dani as they do so!
Then they see some people in a field, amongst them are a group of men who are amusing themselves by watching a man with his leg tied to a tree who is trying to reach a slice of bread on a plate which moves away each times he moves towards it. Véronique is so disgusted by this cruelty that she gets out of the carriage and cuts the string tied around the man’s leg. The gang of men are annoyed by this and accuse her of being a Bolshevik, taking her away in Grégoire’s carriage. Grégoire is left behind shouting that she wanted to go to the Bibliothèque Nationale.
Véronique is taken to prison for her crimes and there she meets other prisoners including Annie Philippe:
And Hugues Aufray:
Véronique is taken to see the Chief of Police, who removes her wig. Véronique is now wearing a Kiev t-shirt (a bit like the Polly t-shirt in Polly Magoo):
Véronique reminds the Chief of Police that they are in 1967 but he is not convinced by this. He wants Véronique to talk and he calls for his assistant, an expert in torture:
The Chief of Police’s assistant tells Véronique that she is as beautiful as an icon but she will make her age by 30 years. Véronique is not sure how she will do this – the answer is she does it with make-up!
Whilst Véronique talks throughout the entire process, she does not tell the Chief of Police what he wants to hear and by the end of the “torture” the assistant declares that it was a failure:
The Chief of Police has another method he decides to employ – dabbing honey on Véronique’s face and letting wasps loose!
At that moment Grégoire arrives and he kills the wasp. He then dances with Véronique and sings a sad French song to her which moves the guards (men in chains, topless, wearing just gold shorts) to tears. Véronique and Grégoire escape:
Then Grégoire is a ballet school tutor and Véronique appears as a petit rat but unfortunately her performance with a male ballet dancer is not to Grégoire’s taste and she is dismissed by him. Véronique can’t understand why Grégoire doesn’t recognise her but he tells her she has to leave anyway:
Grégoire then appears at the Tsarevitch club with Régine and Serge Gainsbourg. Grégoire and Régine talk and she slaps his face. The sad Russian violin music obviously affects Serge’s Russian sensibilities; without a word he rises, finishes his drink, smashes the glass, reaches into the ice bucket to retrieve a gun, swivels the barrel, shoots and kills himself:
Grégoire and Régine laugh at this. Then Véronique appears and sings a cappella in the club, which regains Grégoire’s attention. He recognises a gesture Véronique makes of touching her eyebrow and mistakes her for someone called Anastasia; she goes along with this, instead of correcting Grégoire and telling him that she is Véronique. They dance out of the club together:
Grégoire takes Véronique along to see Jean Yanne, telling him that he has found Anastasia. Jean Yanne studies Véronique’s face and tells Grégoire that Véronique can’t possibly be Anastasia as she looks nothing like her; this despite the fact that the photos of Anastasia are actually Véronique. Grégoire asks Véronique if she’s Anastasia and she says no. He leaves in disappointment and Véronique follows him out of the building:
When we next see the return of Véronique, she and Grégoire are in a spaceship in 2967. Véronique is wearing a The Girl on a Motorcycle style outfit. She recognises Grégoire and calls him Potemkine. He tells her that she can call him Grégoire and then they kiss:
The glamorous concierge makes a final appearance in a space-age chainmail outfit:
Several clocks appear and explode:
When time explodes, Le lapin de Noël comes to an end.
I really enjoyed Le lapin de Noël and would definitely recommend seeing it, even if it is totally nonsensical!