La Cage Aux Folles
Most Criterion releases are all about the auteur. They place the works of great filmmakers into detailed contexts and allow them the high-level presentations they would languish without otherwise. Their latest release, "La Cage Aux Folles," was directed by the veteran craftsman Edouard Molinaro, whose had a long career yet remains relatively unknown.
No, this one isn’t in the collection because of the filmmaker. "La Cage," rather, is being given the Criterion treatment because, for better or worse, it remains one of the defining works of queer cinema. Criterion also recently released a package of early films by queer icon Rainer Werner Fassbinder. They represented underground gay cinema -- this farce, however, managed to break through to the mainstream.
You may know it better by the title of the American remake, "The Birdcage." Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault) are the operator and star of a drag club. But -- as is so rare, even now, in popular cinema -- they are also perfectly happy and healthy gay couple. That’s until Renato’s son returns home with his fiancé in tow, and her ultra-conservative parents. The couple goes to great lengths to hide their overt homosexuality. As always in comedies, the plan doesn’t work.
"La Cage" does lean heavily on stereotype; its humor is rigidly based upon the idea that seeing men do effeminate things is funny, and if released today, may even find itself lambasted by gay audiences for its adherence to cliché. And its laughs are hardly on the level with "classic" comedies. But as a cultural item -- a 1970s film featuring two homosexual main characters who are tortured by their inability to be honest about themselves, instead of being tortured by their sexuality itself -- it’s nothing less than a landmark.
Criterion offers a number of extras along with the film, including an interview with director Molinaro, archival footage of the original stage production of the script (even broader and more archetypal than the film,) trailers, and a couple of critical commentaries, one in interview form, one contained in the booklet. Perhaps more than usual with Criterion releases, they’re invaluable in placing the film within its proper context.
"La Cage Aux Folles" may not be a great film, but it represented a great moment for film culture.
"La Cage Aux Folles"