The Players (Les infidels)

France (2012) Dirs. Various

Oscar winner Jean Dujardin’s follow-up project to the Oscar winning film The Artist, caused some outrage before it was released. While The Artist was finally making waves globally, the French poster for his next film The Players, which showed Dujardin grasping a vertical pair of stocking clad female legs, was hastily removed from public view. Some say it was a question of decency while others suggested it was to avoid any harm to the Oscar chances of Dujardin, which of course it didn’t.

An omnibus outing which presents itself as a comedy but is in fact just as heavy with the drama, the subject is infidelity which, at the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, is something some may assume to be a specialist subject for a randy bunch like the French. However it is presented largely from the perspective of the men covering both the good (for wanting a better term) and the bad, while they try to workout what exactly drives a man to cheat on his wife.

Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche take the leads in each of the main skits assuming different roles, both also writing and directing one each too along with a number of established directors including The Artist helmer Michel Hazanavicius. To give us an idea of what to expect the prologue sees our two leads discussing why men cheating is naturally inherent, which they continue throughout a night of clubbing, picking up girls, the sex – It’s (wrongly) amusing seeing them throwing vain sophistry at each other while two vivacious blondes are given them the ride of a life time – and the aftermath.

A very funny short skit set in an A&E which I won’t spoil is the buffer for the first segment in which Dujardin is Laurent who attends a weekend business conference and hopes to get his end away with receptionist Julia (Aina Clotet) who is off the for weekend. Laurent decides to try his luck with the other women present, his biggest rival being wheelchair bound lothario Antoine (Lellouche), leaving Laurent to resort to desperate measures for a night’s fun.

A more dramatic tone is introduced with Lolita as married forty-something dentist Eric (Lellouche) who is playing around with nineteen year-old former client Inès (Clara Ponsot) but has to share Inès with her young friends. In The Question Olivier (Dujardin) is encouraged by his wife Lisa (Alexandra Lamy) to admit to an affair which he does but then claims he made it up to appease her but Lisa reacts badly anyway. We return to comedy for the last two skits: first poor Marie-Christina (Sandrine Kiberlain) has the arduous task of running a support group for unfaithful men and sex addicts; then Fred (Dujardin) and Greg (Lellouche) head off to Las Vegas to live it up and this tale has quite the surprise ending!

Usually after Oscar winning success the choice of the next project is seen as an important one to make. Watching The Players makes one wonder if there was any inkling that The Artist would be as big as it was, since this film doesn’t have a well chosen follow-up vibe to it for Dujardin, rather it feels like the next project to keep busy with. That said it is something he obviously believed in and was committed to since he co-wrote and co-directed the closing segment with Lellouche, while both men approach each segment with vigour and determination. Whether it is dressing up, being the bad guy or the fall guy neither man takes any short cuts which at least ensure highly watchable performances.

Naturally the success of the actual content is going to be subjective and unless you are aware that this is only pat comedy, there is as danger one may give up on the dramatic scenes halfway through when they realise no laughs are forthcoming. Should the mod have been kept completely light and comical the risk is that the central subject isn’t being taken seriously enough and the film is thus reduced to two men getting their jollies at their wives’ expense.

If the main segments are inconclusive in declaring a right or wrong moral to their tales, the short buffering skits do show the cheating men paying the price and are very funny – although dog lovers probably won’t appreciate one of them! After the prologue and the first short skit it does appear this is the direction the film is heading which the opening act quickly dispels, although it is not without an awkward charm.

For a film based around sex there is little of it and female nudity is at a premium while the ladies get more than an eyeful of the male leads naked backsides. With the French renowned for their verbose and discursive dialogue, expect plenty of chatter here but for once it is congruent to the theme and not the usual existentialist ponderings and time filling discourses we’ve often had to sit through before someone remembers there is a plot to play out.  

To that end The Question and Infidelities Anonymous shine the most light on the motives and problems of the libido driven male, taking both the straight and humorous approach to illustrate their points. One can question the success and weight of the material but no-one can accuse any of the cast, which includes some noted names of modern French cinema, from not pulling their weight and getting behind their roles with commitment and wholesale belief.

The Players isn’t a bad film nor is it a great one, possessing an interesting concept which it unfortunately isn’t quite clever enough to address on a satisfactory level to meet its ambition. Its reception will unfortunately be influenced by the success of The Artist. People who will want to see this because it is Dujardin’s official follow-up to his Oscar win are likely to be disappointed. A more learned audience will judge it by a different criterion, possibly with the same results.