May Fools (1989)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Reunion Films, Satire, Ensemble Film, Period Film, Political Satire, Sophisticated Comedy  |   Release Date - Jun 22, 1990 (USA)  |   Run Time - 107 min.  |   Countries - France , Italy   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Wheeler Winston Dixon

Louis Malle's May Fools (Milou en Mai) is another film in which nature is foregrounded, and is set in France during the events of 1968 -- which are, however, never shown onscreen. Instead of watching riot clubs, tear gas, and barricades, we are given a microcosm of French society in the late '60s (much as Jean Renoir did for bourgeois French society in the late '30s with The Rules of the Game [La Règle du Jeu, 1939]), centering on a sleepy country estate, cared for by Milou (Michel Piccoli), who is devoted to his mother, Madame Vieuzac (Paulette Dubost). But when Milou's mother dies in May 1968, chaos threatens to engulf Milou's relaxed way of life. As scripted by Malle and Jean-Claude Carrière, director Luis Buñuel's longtime collaborator, May Fools demonstrates that even when Eden seems limitless, its true duration can be measured in the span of one person's life -- in this case, that of Milou's mother. As long as Madame Vieuzac's increasingly tenuous hold on life remained, life at the family estate was measured, deliberate, and seemingly eternal. Her death has thrown Milou's entire world into a state of flux. Malle stages the film in a dreamy torpor; though revolution is brewing in Paris, the characters in May Fools are far more interested in their own destinies than that of a nation teetering on the brink of anarchy. The film's original title, Milou in May (Milou en Mai), is perhaps more indicative of the film's real ambitions than the American release title. Although the student/worker revolt of 1968 keeps threatening to intrude, in the end Malle's film is about Milou, not France, and about his personal crises, not those of the government. Indeed, what little information that comes through to the house is wildly speculative, and rumors soon become "facts" as the various members of the household take measure of their lives. Charming, gorgeously photographed, and drenched in sunlight, May Fools is a heart-felt tribute to a past time when politics were trumped by passion, and a utopian social revolution seemed within our collective grasp.