“Yes, I use foundation. I live with a man. I’m just an old queer. That’s right! But I know who I am now. It’s taken me 20 years to come to this, Laurent.”
Those lines are spoken by Renato – the father of Laurent – in the outrageous and warmhearted “La Cage Aux Folles” (1978). This French-Italian film remains one of the highest grossing foreign movies released in the United States. It was nominated for the Oscar for best director and best original screenplay. It spun two sequels – and inspired a Tony award winning Broadway musical of the same name by Jerry Herman. The latter has been revived twice on Broadway and won the Tony for Best Revival each time. It was also adapted into the popular Mike Nichols’ film “The Birdcage” starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams. The original endures as the sharpest and funniest. It was quite a surprise for me seeing it when I first arrived to the United States as a young gay man who hadn’t experienced any positive role models on the screen. Its portrayal of a loving homosexual couple – who are comfortable in their sexuality – was very inspiring. I remember wishing that one day I would have a relationship like Albin and Renato. It’s a movie about acceptance, love, family values, and coming to terms with and embracing the notion that who you are needs no excuses.
The movie derives from a stage farce that played in Paris for a long time by Jean Poiret. It centers on La Cage Aux Folles club owner Renato and his partner, the cabaret’s main attraction, Albin/Zaza. They’re celebrating 20 years of being together. “La Cage” is a wildly popular drag club with both straight and gay audiences in St. Tropez in the French Riviera, at a time when such establishments are under attack by right-wing religious politics. As luck will have it, Laurent – who was raised by the gay couple – has gotten engaged to Louise, the daughter of Simon Charrier, the Deputy Minister of Moral Standards. The ultra-conservative family questions the betrothal and what the parents do for a living. The bride-to-be lies and tells them Renato is a cultural attaché — then, when a scandal involving Simon’s boss (he’s died in the arms of a young prostitute) hits the press, the family feels that an engagement to a prominent diplomat might be the right thing to do in order to deflect attention. Fleeing the media, the Charriers head to St. Tropez to meet their “respectably conventional” future in-laws.
All of this means that a formal dinner is required as well as a total overhaul of Renato and Zaza’s over the top apartment décor. It also raises the question of how to present Zaza. At first, father and son ask him to disappear for the evening which obviously ruffles his feathers. They compromise on letting him stay as the uncle, but he must act masculinely. This leads to one of the most hilarious scenes where Renato teaches Zaza how a man properly butters toast. Laurent’s actual mother, who abandoned him when he was a child, agrees to play Renato’s wife for the evening, to maintain the heterosexual status quo. I’ve forgotten to mention about Jacob, the black maid – who wears Zaza’s wigs and barely-there uniforms. His reactions and quips are priceless. Of course, nothing goes to plan.
It gets raucous – and most of it will come from your end. It’s a good thing you will be able to pause and rewind – otherwise you will be laughing so loud you will miss the punchline. Director and co-screenwriter Édouard Molinaro builds the momentum. In a film where you’d imagine subtlety would not be part of the equation, the helmer finds ways to subconsciously drive the message home. From the get go – in a long unbroken shot, you’re lured inside ‘La Cage’ – the camera swirling and showing you the environs in warm colors. We take on the entire space and then arrive backstage. When the Charrier family is introduced, it will be in a monastery like environment – austere and stark.
The performances are phenomenal. Ugo Tognazzi as Renato is quite a revelation. An Italian actor known for his macho roles is cast against type. Michel Serrault who created the role of Zaza/Albin on stage for many years and won the Cesar Award for best actor (France’s equivalent of the Oscar), gets a chance to immortalize his achievement. Neither actor creates a caricature – they embody men whose sole flicking of a wrist is a form of both defiance and identity. We sympathize and root for them because they have embraced that being yourself is the only way to love and happiness.
Zaza: “This may be a show of transvestites, but it still must be good drama, my pet.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime and Hoopla and to rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube and FandangoNOW.
Screenplay by Francis Veber, Édouard Molinaro, Marcello Danon and Jean Poiret
Based on the play by Jean Poiret
Directed by Édouard Molinaro
Starring Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Serrault, Claire Maurier and Carmen Scarpitta
Bringing “La Cage aux Folles” to the Screen
The screenplay for “Cage” was adapted from a play by Jean Poiret and written by Mr. Poiret, Mr. Molinaro and others. In New York, the film ran for 19 months at the 68th Street Playhouse on the Upper East Side. The theater’s owner, Meyer Ackerman, said it drew a diverse audience: men and women, gay and straight, young and old. “It’s gentle and human, and compassionate in its spoofing,” Mr. Ackerman told The New York Times in 1980. “It offended no one.” Some critics, however, argued that it relied too heavily on stereotypes. It was “naughty in the way of comedies that pretend to be sophisticated but actually serve to reinforce the most popular conventions and most witless stereotypes,” Vincent Canby wrote in a review for The New York Times. A sequel, “ La Cage aux Folles II,” also directed by Mr. Molinaro, came out in 1980. A Broadway musical version ran from 1983 to 1987 and won several Tony Awards. There were revivals in 2004, and in 2010 starring Kelsey Grammer. The American film adaptation, “The Birdcage,” appeared in 1996, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane…When Mr. Molinaro saw his film “Cage” for the first time, he thought it was so bad that it might be his last job. He was surprised that he ended up being known for comedy, he told The Times. “If my most commercial films have been comedies, it’s almost in spite of myself,” Mr. Molinaro said. “I don’t laugh very easily.” (nytimes.com)
About Playwright Jean Poiret
Jean Poiret was born on August 17, 1926 in Paris, France. Poiret was a French actor and playwright who wrote and starred in the original 1973 Paris production of “La Cage aux folles,” a farcical play about a gay couple that ran for more than 2,000 performances, inspired several films, and was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. In the early 1950s Poiret formed a cabaret act and an enduring professional partnership with comic actor Michel Serrault. Poiret wrote or adapted and starred in numerous comedies, including “Douce Amère” (1970), “Joyeuses Pâques” (1980), and a French production of Neil Simon’s “Rumors” (1991). Although he did not appear in any of the films based on “La Cage aux folles” – which include the English-language “The Birdcage” (1996), directed by Mike Nichols—Poiret made some 40 motion pictures, notably “Le Dernier Métro” (1980; “The Last Metro”), “Poulet au vinaigre” (1985; “Cop au Vin”), “Inspecteur Lavardin” (1986), and “Le Miraculé” (1987). (britannica.com)
About Actor Michel Serrault
Michel Serrault was born on January 24, 1928, in Brunnoy, France. He appeared in more than 130 motion pictures over a 50-year career, but he won the hearts of fans worldwide (and the first of three César Awards for best actor) for his portrayal of the flamboyant and temperamental but tenderhearted drag queen Albin/Zaza in “La Cage aux Folles” beginning with some 1,500 performances (1973–78) at the Théâtre du Palais Royal in Paris and then in the 1978 movie and its two sequels. Serrault left a Roman Catholic seminary to study acting in Paris and in the early 1950s formed a cabaret act with actor-playwright Jean Poiret, who wrote ‘“La Cages aux Folles” and starred opposite Serrault onstage though not in the hit films. Serrault’s other screen roles included a suspected child killer in the thriller “Garde à vue” (1981) and the aging ex-magistrate in the May-December romance “Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud” (1995), both of which earned him Césars. He was appointed to the Legion of Honour in 1999. (britannica.com)
About Composer Ennio Morricone
Ennio Morricone was born in Rome on 10 November 1928. His long artistic career includes a wide range of composition genres, from absolute concert music to applied music, working as orchestrator, conductor and composer for theatre, radio and cinema. In 1946, Ennio received his trumpet diploma and in 1954 he received his diploma in Composition at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia under the guidance of Goffredo Petrassi. He wrote his first concert works at the end of the 1950s, then worked as arranger for RAI (the Italian broadcasting company) and RCA-Italy. He started his career as a film music composer in 1961 with the film Il “Federale” directed by Luciano Salce. World fame followed through the Sergio Leone westerns: “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “For a Few Dollars More” (1965), “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (1966), “Once Upon a Time in The West” (1968) and “A Fistful of Dynamite” (1971). In 1965, Morricone joined the improvisation group Nuova Consonanza. Since 1960, Morricone has scored over 450 films working with many Italian and international directors including Sergio Leone, Gillo Pontecorvo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuliano Montaldo, Lina Wertmuller, Giuseppe Tornatore, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty, Adrian Lyne, Oliver Stone, Margarethe Von Trotta, Henry Verneuil, Pedro Almodovar and Roland Joffè. His most famous films (other than the Italian westerns) include: “The Battle of Algiers;” “Sacco and Vanzetti;” “Cinema Paradiso;” “The Legend of 1900,” “Malena;” “The Untouchables;” “Once Upon a Time in America;” “The Mission” and “U-Turn.” His absolute music production includes over 100 pieces composed from 1946 to the present day. Titles include “Concerto per Orchestra n.1” (1957); “Frammenti di Eros” (1985); “Cantata per L’Europa” (1988); “UT, per tromba, archi e percussioni” (1991); “Ombra di lontana presenza” (1997); “Voci dal silenzio” (2002); “Sicilo ed altri frammenti” (2007); “Vuoto d’anima piena” (2008). In 2001, Ennio Morricone began a period of intense concert activity, conducting his film music and concert works for symphony orchestra and polyphonic choir in more than 100 concerts across Europe, Asia, USA, Central and South America.
During his long career, Ennio Morricone has also received many awards. As well as the Golden Lion and the honorary Oscar he was awarded in 2003, he has been presented with eight Nastri D’argento, five BAFTAs, five Oscar nominations, seven David Di Donatellos, three Golden Globes, one Grammy Award and one European Film Award. In 2009, the then President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, also signed a decree appointing Morricone to the rank of Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honor. In the recording field, Morricone has received 27 gold discs, seven platinum discs, three Golden Plates and the Critica discografica award for the music of the film Il Prato. The soundtrack from the film “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009 while Morricone himself was awarded the prestigious Polar Music prize the following year. His more recent works include scores for the television series “Karol” and “The End of a Mystery,” “72 Meters” and “Fateless.” In the 21st century, Morricone’s music has been reused countless times for television and in movies including Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (2003), “Death Proof” (2007), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and “Django Unchained” (2012). In 2007, Morricone received the Academy Honorary Award “for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music”. In November 2013, he began a world tour to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his film music career and performed in locations such as the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Santiago, Chile, Berlin, Germany (O2 World), Budapest, Hungary, and Vienna’s Stadhalle. On 6 February 2014, Riccardo Mutti conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Morricone’s Voices from the Silence, a cantata Morricone composed in response to 9/11 to give voice to innocent victims. In Autumn 2014, Morricone participated in the recording of a documentary about himself by Giuseppe Tornatore, which is yet to be released.
His European tour resumed from February 2015 to March 2015, with 20 concerts in 12 countries, in Europe’s largest arenas, such as the O2 in London and the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. Playing to a total of 150,000 spectators and with most of the shows sold out, Maestro Morricone’s “My Life in Music” European Arena Tour was a resounding success. On 12 June 2015, Morricone conducted a mass composed in dedication to Pope Francis. It was commissioned by the Jesuit Order to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the recongregation of the Jesuit Order at the Jesuit Church in Rome. 2015 also saw Morricone collaborate with Quentin Tarantino on an original soundtrack for the very first time. On December 7th 2015, “The Hateful Eight” had its world premiere followed by a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Original Score category the very next day. (enniomorricone.org)
About Director Édouard Molinaro
Édouard Molinaro was born on May 13, 1928 in Bordeaux, France. He achieved international success with “La Cage aux folles” (1978), which sold more than eight million tickets in the U.S., a record at that time for a foreign film, and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for “Molinaro” as best director and one for the screenplay that he co-wrote. The hit movie was later turned into a Broadway musical (1983–87) and an American film adaptation called “The Birdcage” (1996). After directing several documentaries early in his career, Molinaro turned to comedy. In addition to “La Cage aux folles” and its 1980 sequel, “La Cage aux folles II,” Molinaro directed such films as “Une Ravissante Idiote” (1964; “Agent 38-24-36”), with Anthony Perkins and Brigitte Bardot; “La Chasse à l’homme” (1964; “Male Hunt”), with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Françoise Dorléac; “Mon oncle Benjamin” (1969), with Jacques Brel; and “Beaumarchais l’insolent” (1996). In later years Molinaro focused on television, where he specialized in adaptations of literary works. (britannica.com)