Before Jean Dujardin came to worldwide attention by winning the Oscar for best actor in The Artist, he was already a star in his native country. He came to prominence as one half of ‘Un Gars, une Fille‘, a comedy TV sketch show revolving around a competitive-to-the-point-of-cruel couple. Dujardin has had success with dramatic roles since but The Players sees Dujardin return to this archetype as modern France’s everyman in love (so to speak). UK distributor Momentum is banking on that Oscars success to draw British audiences to what is a very French affair.
The Players is a series of scenarios and sketches riffing on the act of infidelity. Or more precisely, men cheating on their wives and trying not to get caught. Dujardin teams up with the aptly surnamed Gilles Lellouche (they were both in last year’s Little White Lies) as partners in philandering.
The separate scenarios plough through the archetypes of Parisian male adulterers: a pair of hard partying buddies, out until 5am every morning fucking any willing pretty woman and covering each other’s backs in the face of spousal inquisition; the lusty, but stymied businessman pathetically jealous of his colleague’s seemingly effortless ability to sleep with every female employee at the company; the mid-life crisis with a girlfriend’s half his age.
It’s an unfamiliar cinematic structure, a TV format, with a bizarre car-crash of characters. One might ponder on how successfully this Gallic trope might translate, but the relentless absurdity of it is universally funny. The little minute long sketches in particular are crude and tasteless, but equally ludicrous and farcical: an unfathomable fusing of bodies during sex; S&M and an exposing garage door; a dog and a used condom, to give but a flavour of their components. There’s a particularly funny sketch bringing together many of the characters that appear (Dujardin & Lellouche are joined by other ‘infidèles’ including Guillaume Canet, married to Marion Cotillard) in an Adulterers Anonymous group run by a beautiful therapist.
One scenario sees Lellouche’s character openly discussing his infidelity at the dinner table whilst his wife potters in the background, out of earshot. On the way home, the married dinner guest-couple (Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy, the other half in ‘Un Gars, Une Fille’, and the woman Dujardin married after divorcing his first wife with whom he has two children), besides exclaiming their friend’s impertinent flagrance, inevitably end up discussing their own fidelity. Not a date movie, then.
Or perhaps it is. It doesn’t bother with the aftermath of infidelity. There’s the men for whom extra-marital sex has become the ‘normal status’; the man who wants to cheat but can’t (not for want of trying) and sees this as fidelity; and the sad man who can’t hack the complexities of his 19 year old girlfriend’s social life. Women are passing sexual objects or frustrated bystanders. It’s all a bit laissez-faire with a comic-moral line that men are stupid and ridiculous and adultery is their natural state. It’s innate.
The finale sees our pair of partying buddies from the first sketch heading to Las Vagas to give it ‘everything’ and the whole thing descends into bacchanalian lunacy of epic proportions. For heterosexual Parisian relationships at least, c’est la vie.
The Players (Les infidèles) is in cinemas now, courtesy of Momentum Pictures.