Michel Deville’s Benjamin or The Bluest Ball
If your name was Benjamin, and you were born in 1968, and you came across a movie that was made in 1968 entitled Benjamin, wouldn’t you watch it? It did have a subtitle. The full monicker was Benjamin: The Diary of an Innocent Boy. OK, maybe I wasn’t the most innocent of boys, but still I felt like I should see it.
Normally I try to stay away from French films. Why? you ask, because of dialogue like the following that I transcribed from a scene early on in this film.
The Count: My attitude enflamed your wrath, and your wrath is a spice to me.
The Countess: Don’t Speak. You no longer love me.
The Count: That’s what Mmme De Chartes told me yesterday in the afternoon. After I had made love to her 3 times.
The Countess: You had told me you were seeing Mme Latour
The Count: I don’t like lies, but I like a bit of mystery around my love life.
The whole film takes place in a fancy French chateau that looks like something out of a Fragonard Painting, a painter only the French could love. The film is set in what looks like the 17th Century but with better dental hygiene. The movie consists of the same scene played over and over. Innocent Benjamin is seduced by a beautiful, young, French, woman, or several, beautiful, young, French, women and the seduction is interrupted right before the cloths come off. Its as though poor Benjamin is trapped in that nunnery from Monty Python and The Holly Grail. Every woman who he meets wants to seduce him but his buddies keep interrupting. There were at the very least a dozen such scenes.
Benjamin is indeed innocent. He is so innocent he is a bit like Herzog;s Kaspar Hauser, a character dear to my heart, or maybe a horny Forrest Gump, a character not so dear to my heart. In fact as a character Benjamin functions in a similar way to both these men. Benjamin’s naïveté is used to highlight the absurdities of aristocratic life and of life in general. That is when he’s not being cock blocked by random intruders.
Catherine Deneuve’s name appears in the opening credits and I kept watching for her. There were a lot of scenes of women riding around on horses and I kept waiting for Ms. Deneuve to trot on screen and turn the whole thing into Belle De Jour, but she doesn’t appear for the first half hour. If this were an American film the formula would be an hour and twenty minutes of teasing and ten minutes of steamy sex at the end. This being a French film it is an hour and twenty minutes of teasing and emotional cruelty followed by ten more minutes of teasing and emotional cruelty.