French Revolution, Family Style

The collapse of socialism has brought Europe into a postrevolutionary age. Louis: Malle's May Fools can be called the first postrevolutionary comedy. It takes place in May 1968, when the left-wing student demonstrations in Paris were shaking all of France. In Malle's delicious film those events are reflected and parodied in the hurried reunion of a family in the wine country of the southwest. The octogenarian matriarch, Madame Vieuzac (Paulette Dubost), suddenly dies, leaving her estate in the care of her dreamy 60-year-old son Milou (.Michel Piccoli). Promptly, several generations of Vieuzacs converge on the family villa. As the radio blares out ominous bulletins on the political upheavals in the cities, the family spars and spats about the disposal of the estate. Since the local gravediggers have caught the anarchic fever, the body of Madame Vienzac goes unburied. She becomes a kind of ironic spirit, surveying the mini-revolution in her fractious family.

"May Fools" is the comic complement to Malle's heartbreaking autobiographical film "Au revoir les enfants." With a masterly hand, Malle leads his captivating cast through an intricate farce (coscripted by Jean Claude Carriere) involving almost every human appetite from lust to eating to greed. This is the best ensemble of the year in any language: Miou-Miou makes avarice seem romantic; Dominique Blanc is spiteful, sexy and touching as a lesbian who loses her lover to a boy inflamed by rebellion, and the incomparable Piccoli goes beyond mere acting to pure incandescence. It's fitting that the 82-year-old Dubost was in Jean Renoir's 1939 masterpiece, "Rules of the Game." In its wit, subversive yet embracing, in its pastoral beauty, "May Fools" has the tang of a Renoir for our time.