Directed By: Jens Jørgen Thorsen
Starring: Paul Valjean, Wayne Rodda, Ulla Koppel
Line from the film: "The French are a great people, even if they are syphilitic"
Trivia: Owing to the subject matter and strong language the film was rejected for UK cinema by the BBFC in 1970
Based on a book of the same name by Henry Miller, Quiet Days in Clichy is a mostly-softcore sex comedy that’s more concerned with situations than it is story or character. That may sound like a criticism, but it isn’t intended as one, because the truth is that, in the case of this 1970 movie, its situations are bold enough to carry the entire film.
Joey (Paul Valjean), an expatriate American writer, resides in the Clichy district of Paris with his French friend / roommate Carl (Wayne Rodda). Usually broke and hungry, the two pass the time by having sex with as many women as possible (most are prostitutes). A number of different girls come in and out of their lives, though a few do manage to make a lasting impression, including Nys (Ulla Koppel), with whom Joey falls in love; and Colette (Elsebeth Reingaard), a 15-year-old free spirit who, despite being underage, captures Carl’s heart.
It’s not much of a plot, I grant you, but as I stated above, Quiet Days in Clichy is more a collection of racy vignettes than it is a narrative-driven film. Shot in black and white, the movie jumps from one erotic adventure to another, showing plenty of female flesh along the way. In addition to the nudity and sex (at least one scene crosses the line into hard-core territory), Quiet Days in Clichy features some frank discussions about women and their sexual organs. Even the title song, written and performed by Country Joe McDonald, gets in on the act, with lyrics that, on paper, seem quite shocking (“Little Colette she has no sense; Serving the breakfast without her pants; Spoiling the coffee, burning the eggs; All of her brains are between her legs”), yet perfectly match the overall tone of the movie.
At times, Quiet Days in Clichy is downright bizarre. In the opening scene, the two leads are approached by their neighbor, a prostitute, who says she’ll have sex with both of them for 200 francs. Naturally, they take her up on the offer, but before they sleep with her, the woman (who is already nude) walks into their bathroom and starts writing poetry on the walls. Thought bubbles (like you see in comic strips) appear from out of the blue, letting us know what the characters are thinking, and postcards with obscenities scrawled across the front of them occasionally pop up, taking what was already a strange film and making it even weirder.
In many ways, Quiet days in Clichy reminded me of a French New Wave production, especially those directed by Jean-Luc Godard (one of the girls they bed even works for the New York Herald Tribune, a la Jean Seberg’s character in Godard’s Breathless). Like a New Wave film, this 1970 movie was shot guerrilla-style on the streets of Paris (at one point, the duo follows Colette as she wanders around the city, sometimes ducking behind cars to ensure she doesn’t see them), and abandons traditional storytelling in favor of a more visceral approach to the material. An unusual combination of sex and the cinema, Quiet Days in Clichy is an imaginative and ultimately satisfying motion picture experience.