Bye Bye Monkey
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In the heart of New York City, Gérard Depardieu and Marcello Mastroianni star as two foreign eccentrics decaying in a surreal, rat-infested world. While walking along the Hudson River, Luigi (Mastroianni) discovers the corpse of King Kong. He also finds a newborn monkey and brings him to his friend Lafayette (Depardieu), who decides to raise the infant as his own.
Marco Ferreri’s first English-language feature, Bye Bye Monkey co-stars James Coco and Geraldine Fitzgerald and ranks among the most symbolic and bizarre works from Italy’s “King of the Bizarre.”
Includes the Bonus Excerpt from the documentary “Marco Ferreri: The Director Who Came from the Future”
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Heading the cast are Gérard Depardieu as Lafayette and Marcello Mastroianni as Luigi, two eccentric immigrants living in a New York City that is even more pretentious and rat-infested than in reality. Lafayette lives in an apartment that is apparently half service station bathroom and half rat farm judging from its ambiance, and works as a stagehand and production assistant for a very off-Broadway women's theater group. The seven actresses have a distaste for men in general and Lafayette in particular (though his boorish behavior rightfully earns their scorn,) which leads to my question: if they are all about feminism, why didn't they hire a female stagehand? After Lafayette unwittingly assists in the most distasteful actor's workshop ever, he and Luigi find King Kong's body lying next to the water in front of the World Trade Center towers (the film was made in 1977.) They discover a baby chimpanzee nuzzled up to Kong, and in one of Mastroianni's worst fits of overacting ever, Luigi explains that Lafayette should adopt the chimp because he has allergies to ape hair. (!) When consulted on the issue Andreas Flaxman (James Coco, who steals the show) advises Lafayette to ditch the monkey: "You must get rid of this quadruped immediately....Forget the dictates of your heart!" Thank goodness he doesn't take the advice, as the chimp is by far the most appealing cast member.
As the film progresses Lafayette gets into a weird relationship triangle (I dare not call it a "love triangle" here) with two women. This plot element is truly offbeat, and his decisions are definitely not where my own would have been. Not only does Lafayette not get rid of the monkey he takes it to a registrar and lists it as his child, named "Cornelius Lafayette." This attachment to his chimp is oddly noble, but ends up costing him dearly in the end. I suppose that's a commentary on the nature of love and the fragility of the mortal world, but you interpret for yourself.
Some of the plot defies simple description, and some of the techniques are painful to endure as a viewer. First there is the whistling. Lafayette uses a referee's whistle to scare the rats, his eternal foes, away. He becomes so fond of it he begins to use it to communicate instead of dialogue. This is a bit of a mixed blessing, but I found it profoundly annoying. Along the same grating lines, the film features intermittent musical numbers, the less said of which the better: my only comment is that after the singing you will probably be glad to hear the whistle again. The film also incorporates many other cultural artifacts, mostly through Flaxman's wax museum dedicated to Roman antiquity. I actually enjoyed Coco's part in the film more than any of the other (human) actors, as he is passionate and intense, while still being loon crazy. In a tribute to the big government conspiracy theories so popular after Watergate, Flaxman is visited by a psychological agent from the government who wants him to modernize the look of the wax statues for a more modern time. He demonstrates how Caesar should be made to look like JFK, while Nero is made to look like Nixon in a bit of symbolism that's hard to miss. ("You put Nixon's head on Nero's body!") Nixon is also given a zither (it's not a fiddle anyway) of some sort to hold. This didn't surprise me, as Ferreri's Nixon predilection is seen in some of his other work as well. The film concludes in a genuinely dismaying manner, and careful observers might have seen it coming. In retrospect I should have, but didn't as by the time the ending rolled around I was a distinctly disinterested observer.
The DVD has a difficult menu to get to work correctly, and the disc didn't want to play on one of my DVD players at all. There is a bonus feature of a short snippet from the documentary "Marco Ferreri: The Director Who Came From The Future" included (other parts are scattered all over other works in his catalogue.) The image is fairly good for this vintage of film, and the photography is stunning. Imagery overcomes substance in many places (white gas masks, James Coco bursting into flames, etc.) and from a purely visual perspective the film is interesting. That the plot meanders all over creation and frequently approaches senselessness are its biggest problems, and while fans of 1970s surrealism, Ferreri, Depardieu, Mastroianni, or Coco may glean pleasure from it, "Bye Bye Monkey" is not a film for most viewers.
I enjoy great films by Antonioni, Pasolini and the rest who embody symbolism at its best (in my opinion) but this one....not one of my favorites. I gave it four stars for originality but subtracted one for the long stretches of boredom and lack of real plotline (it's just one weird scene after another). Here's my take on the film for what it's worth.
We meet Lafayette (Gerard Depardieu) as he wakes in this nightmarish vision of NYC of the 70s. He makes his way to his job (stage hand for a feminist group that does performance art) carrying a large steel pipe to ward off the people patrolling in white hazardous suits? Which I took to mean that the world would be a very dangerous place for men if feminists really did get their way?? The women revile Lafayette in all his primitive maleness. They discuss a topic for their next performance: rape. They decide to rape Lafayette to prove women are just as capable of violence. This scene actually shows how dissimilar men and women really are - the actual act and the result are different. For certain viewers, please note that there is full frontal nudity of both sexes in this film. Lafayette's group of friends are a ragtag bunch of older men and one woman (she is included because she still likes men - she keeps a painting she admires of a male, her children will not visit until she takes it down). They all hold the same view of admiring the past but the past is decaying all around them. A giant King Kong figure lies rotting on the beach. This group of misfits discover a baby monkey nuzzling the dead giant ape (just like nurturing and traditional mothering roles will die out from rampant feminism). Lafayette intends to raise this monkey despite warnings that he should not and could not take care of it. These scenes of Lafayette attempting to raise the monkey made me think that the same awkwardness and clumsy parenting would result if men tried to raise children on their own. There is also the whole constant whistle blowing thing by Lafayette. It scares away the rats? An underground society of rats? and since he blew the whistle at the most ardent feminist of the performance group, then she too is a rat?
The whole film is ripe with symbolism and all of this brilliant imagery is thrown at the viewer in an almost provoking manner but you need to wade through a lot of boring scenes to get to the interesting bits. Great haunting visuals but not enough foundation was build to form a cohesive story. I recommend this film to diehard film fans who want to edify their symbolism viewing.