Le Mouton enragé (1974)
A film directed by Michel Deville

Genre: Comedy / Drama

Review published:


Le Mouton enragé photo
Nicolas Mallet is a modest bank employee whose lack of personal ambition is matched by a crippling lack of self-confidence. He surprises himself when, one day, he bottles up the courage to chat up a young woman in the street. He is even more surprised when that woman, Marie-Paule, allows him to sleep with her. When Nicholas relates this improbable escapade to his old school friend Claude Fabre, a disabled and bitter writer, the latter offers him a strange proposal. Under Fabre's guidance, Nicholas will be propelled up the social ladder, seducing women to advance his career and allow him to amass a huge personal fortune. Nicholas agrees to participate in the mad adventure and, once he has given up his cosy bank job, he makes a start by seducing Roberte, the wife of a respected academic. Through Marie-Paule, Nicholas then becomes the personal associate of Lourceuil, a wealthy businessman. To further his political ambitions, Lourceuil puts Nicholas in charge of a newspaper, bought from a rich old widow. Nicholas's run of good fortune cannot last forever, and when the bodies begin to pile up Nicholas finally sees the downside of his Satanic pact...
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

In the 1970s, director Michel Deville turned away from the light whimsical comedies that had brought him mainstream success in the previous decade (films such as Ce soir ou jamais, Adorable menteuse and À cause, à cause d'une femme) and started to make films (in various genres) that were of a much, much darker hue. Le Mouton enragé (1974) was the first in a series of anti-bourgeois satires that Deville made in the 1970s and 80s which take a vicious sideswipe at the double standards and immorality of France's materialistically minded middle classes. The two other notable films in this series are Eaux profondes (1981) and Péril en la demeure (1985) - along with Le Mouton enragé, these form a loose trilogy which is widely considered to be among Deville's best work.

Le Mouton enragé is not only one of Deville's most cynical films - it is nothing less than an all-out assault on the disgraceful art of social climbing - it is also one of his funniest, although virtually all of the humour is of a dark and sour temperament. Christopher Frank's screen adaptation of Roger Blondel's novel is rich in caustic one-liners and rejoinders, but beneath the wildly exaggerated caricature and fanciful situations the unwholesome truths about the bourgeois malaise are all too easily recognised. Le Mouton enragé is a social satire with teeth - sharp, hungry, blood-stained teeth. If this film were an animal it would have to be a velociraptor, one with a big belly and a keenly developed sense of irony.

As in all of Michel Deville's films, Le Mouton enragé boasts an impeccable cast. No actor was better suited to play the central protagonist than Jean-Louis Trintignant, an actor who is naturally shy but who is also equipped with a devastating charm, which he puts to deadly use in this film. In one of his best comedic roles, Trintignant is irresistibly funny but he also manages to make his unsympathetic character - a sheep who gradually turns into a wolf - convincing and likeable. It helps that he is supported by a remarkable ensemble of talent that includes not only stars such as Romy Schneider (whom he had previously partnered in Alain Cavalier's Le Combat dans l'île) and Jane Birkin, but also fine character performers such as Georges Wilson, Henri Garcin and Jean-François Balmer.

Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin are as stunningly sensual as ever (Deville exploits their strengths to the absolute maximum), but it is Trintignant's scenes with another great acting talent, Jean-Pierre Cassel, that are the most compelling. As the crippled writer who, like a latterday Mephistopheles, guides Trintignant towards wealth and success, Cassel gives the film its bitter, twisted edge, but it is through his eyes that we see the darker truths that make up the film's underlying moral. The human consequences of self-serving opportunism are powerfully exposed in the film's acrid denouement and, at this point, the joke suddenly turns very sour indeed. The director of Le Mouton enragé certainly lives up to his name. When it comes to baiting the bourgeoisie, Michel Deville does so with a Satanic relish and shows he can be something of a devil.

© James Travers 2007-2012

The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

Other comedy/drama films of the 1970s from France that are worth watching include: Luis Buñuel's Cet obscur objet du désir (1977), Luis Buñuel's Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972), Claude Sautet's Mado (1976), François Truffaut's La Nuit américaine (1973) and Louis Malle's Le Souffle au coeur (1971).

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Film Credits

  • Director: Michel Deville
  • Script: Christopher Frank (dialogue), Roger Blondel (novel)
  • Photo: Claude Lecomte
  • Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Nicolas Mallet), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Claude Fabre), Romy Schneider (Roberte Groult), Jane Birkin (Marie-Paule), Henri Garcin (Berthoud), Georges Beller (Ami de Marie-Paule), Georges Wilson (Lourceuil), Estella Blain (Shirley Douglas), Florinda Bolkan (Flora Danieli), Dominique Constanza (Sabine), Jean-François Balmer (Vischenko), Michel Vitold (Georges Groult), Carlo Nell (Garçon de café), Mary Marquet, Betty Berr, Rachel Cathoud, Madeleine Damien, Adrienne Servantie, Raoul Curet, Gisèle Casadesus, Georges Bruce, Salvino Di Pietra, Leonie Collet, Frédéric Nort, Pierre Gualdi
  • Country: France / Italy
  • Language: French
  • Support: Color
  • Runtime: 105 min

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