Le Weekend, 2/9/24: Taking a 2024 Look at ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ and the American remake, ‘The Birdcage ‘ 🇫🇷

Also: Stranger beware, there’s love in the air…❤️ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌


February 09, 2024

Dear Frenchly Readers,

Last weekend, I watched the 1978 Italo-French movie, La Cage aux Folles. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a movie made from the 1973 play of the same name, about a gay couple that owns a nightclub, La Cage aux Folles, in Saint Tropez, France. The club headlines famous—or infamous, depending on how you see it—drag shows.

The movie stars Michel Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi as the couple, Albin and Renato. The situation of the movie is that Laurent, Renato’s son, wants to get married…to a woman. (Remember, at this time, there is no such thing as gay marriage.) Albin and Renato have raised Laurent, whose mother wasn’t interested in being a mother, and, is instead, a career woman; they are his parents.

Laurent’s fiancée comes from an ultra-conservative French family, one that is involved, on a political level, with pushing a “moral code” for the rest of France. Consequently, both Laurent and Andréa are afraid that if her parents meet his parents, they will not allow her to marry Laurent. What then ensues are the efforts Laurent and his doting parents make to try to hide the reality of their family, including redecorating their apartment to look more like the pulpit of a Catholic cathedral, replete with copious amounts of white candles, a crucifix that takes up the better part of a wall, and the most uncomfortable looking straight-backed, priestly wooden chairs you could ever imagine. All of this is chaos—Albin is mortified and hurt by the redecorating, which, in this case, also means redecorating his Queen-self right out of the picture. And Renato wants to please and care for both his lover and, also, his son, both of whom he adores. And it’s played for laughs, mostly.

But under the humor, which, truly, is so refreshingly funny–you will laugh out loud as my older son and I did–there is an aching melody of sadness. The couple, Albin and Renato, have made a world for themselves where they feel accepted. They have an apartment they love above the nightclub Renato owns, where Albin performs as “Zaza.” They have a “maid”––the hilarious barefooted-in-the-kitchen character of Jacob—truly, one of the best roles ever written.

Yet, Renato and Albin are willing to entirely undo their own safety and happiness in order to try to make their son happy, and feel accepted. It hurts them to do this. And it hurts to watch. What might have been passed off to the masses as purely funny in 1978, is now, 46 years later, familiarly painful. What smarts is that many people still, today, feel they have to hide whom and how they love, to one degree or another, and therefore they must hide who they are. That is the thing that should have changed in 46 years.

Because of how little the world has changed, the movie stands the test of time; strangely, it doesn’t feel dated. And the hilarity edged with deep pathos makes it so human and moving, you can hardly stop thinking about it long after the credits roll.

When we were done, both my son and I were still laughing about some of the scenes. But in and out of laughing, we talked about how we also felt heartbroken that such good people who only loved each other and their son didn’t think they could be who they were.

The next night, we watched the American remake starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams, The Birdcage. Now this one, made in 1996, has all the razzle-dazzle of the ’90s (set in the late ’80s), replete with splashy color, huge shoulder pads, sequins, and awesome music (and boy, could Robin Williams dance!). But somehow, this version, with Dianne Wiest and Gene Hackman playing the moralistic fiancée’s parents, Dan Futterman playing the son, Calista Flockhart as the fiancée, and Hank Azaria playing the “houseman,” falls a bit flat.

This storyline, with the son’s request that the parents pretend they are something other than what they are, now reset in America, just as the AIDS epidemic is ending, as conservatism begins to really take off, and gay culture declares itself, comes off as just plain mean. I can’t really say why, except that it makes you not like the young couple that cooks up this silly, insensitive scheme. There are modern updates, like Robin Williams handing Nathan Lane his “palimony” papers—remember those, when gay people couldn’t marry but got to sign papers to be official “pals,” and therefore protect each other with respects to property and inheritances? And we see the early predecessors for what gave birth to Fox News.

The saving grace in this production of La Cage aux Folles (a.k.a. The Birdcage) is Hank Azaria, who is just hilarious and perfect. Even so, one has to ask, why did the Americans even need to remake a film already so expertly done by the French and with such heart, nuance, and humor, back in 1978? In the end, the only answer is a familiar one: American hubris.

À cuisiner, boire, regarder et lire ce weekend:

I have been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke lately. I am writing a novel that takes place in France (!!!) and I’ve been putting together a soundtrack to inspire me, so I have gravitated to Cooke. Do you know this song about love in Paris? It’s perfect for Valentine’s Day, methinks.

Or, even if you “don’t know much about the French” you took, listen to our French love songs playlist.

Also, what about this “Invisible Apple Cake,” or “Gâteau Invisible,” from Dorie Greenspan? The point of an Invisible Cake, as I understand it, is that it has more fruit than batter. The thin slices of apple stack neatly in the loaf, and, when sliced, look almost translucent. Here’s a good example from Serious Eats. For reasons I can’t explain, the recipe calls for miso, which gives it a savory umami addition to the sweetness. Might be a wonderful cake for Valentines’ Day, non?

We have a really good review, below, from Andrea Meyer, of The Taste of Things—out today, for the Binoche fans (and who isn’t?). We also have a French TV round up from Cat Rickman, here.

Also, this French justice minister, Robert Badinter, who abolished the death penalty in France and led France (and the world) with his forward thinking ideas of what the words “human rights” actually mean, has died. Le Monde has this remembrance.

I am going to France with my family and my dad next week! I will be setting up two new Le Weekends, which Cat will get ready for you. When I get back, I will have lots of tips and stories.

Happy Valentines Day, mes chères readers!

À bientôt,


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