Peter (Anthony Higgins) and Margaret Jones (Charlotte Rampling) are a veddy British couple living in Paris, he a bland diplomat and she his pale, vacant wife. When he learns that Margaret has been holding furtive afternoon meetings, Peter suspects infidelity and finds her with somebody else. “Get up, please. Let’s not make a big fuss about this,” he politely asks the figure hiding under the covers with his wife, and out jumps her lover: Max, a scruffy, shrieking chimpanzee. The central joke of Oshima Nagisa’s Max Mon Amour is not so much that a bored woman would have an affair with a chimp, but that, for the sake of the couple’s stability, the jabbering monkey is ludicrously integrated into the genteel family. Peter suggests that Margaret bring her simian paramour home, where Max becomes the mangiest guest of the bourgeoisie since Renoir’s Boudu. Other than the sores proliferating over the face of their working-class maid (Victoria Abril), the surfaces of the Jones household remain wittily unperturbed by the hairy intruder, even during a hilarious, candlelit dinner where the guests struggle to keep a refined front as Max smooches and paws Margaret (“I take it it’s a male,” somebody deadpans). Oshima co-wrote the screenplay with Jean-Claude Carrière, the droll veteran of Buñuel’s late works, and, indeed, Max Mon Amour’s theme is one that the great surrealist would have enjoyed—and pushed further. A wry mix of King Kong and My Man Godfrey, it’s a potent premise that somehow never catches fire: Peter may at one point beat his chest and charge at his secretary in mock-gorilla fashion, but the film is too satisfied with its own notions to tap into the bestial impulses hidden under the sheen of class civility. In fact, the opposite happens as Max gradually is made into little more than a rambunctious pet, providing Oshima with his own unintended metaphor of a wild subversive idea ultimately tamed and housebroken.
Trying to approximate the calm and clarity of Buñuel’s late period, the great cinematographer Raoul Coutard fashions an almost nondescript elegance that is perversely aided by the visual and aural flatness of the transfer.
An intriguing curio that would have played better as a condensed sketch in Buñuel’s Phantom of Liberty.