Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: It’s Love Week at The A.V. Club, so we’ve followed our hearts and lined up a slate of unconventional love stories.
Nagisa Ôshima—the protean Japanese director best known for his boundary-pushing explorations of sex, politics, and sexual politics—pumped out features and TV documentaries at a steady clip throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but slowed down drastically once the 1980s rolled around. In the last 35 years of his life, Ôshima directed only three fiction features: the dreamy, subtly homoerotic POW drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence; the poetic, overtly homoerotic samurai drama Taboo; and Max Mon Amour, which is best known as the movie where Charlotte Rampling falls in love with a chimp.
If that sounds like the setup to a joke, it’s because it is. Directed in a deliberately unaffected, tastefully wallpapered style, Max Mon Amour is a droll satire of what used to be called bourgeois values, and the lengths to which the moneyed class will go to maintain the appearance of decorum. After walking in on his wife, Margaret (Rampling), in bed with an ape, British diplomat Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) decides to take the high road and accept the affair as just another part of the cost of preserving their status and family. After all, he’s got a mistress of his own.
Scripted by Ôshima and Jean-Claude Carriere, co-writer of Luis Buñuel’s later films, and produced by Serge Silberman, another longtime Buñuel collaborator, Max Mon Amour plays like an homage to the master of the normalized surreal. As Margaret’s relationship with Max (dancer Ailsa Berk, in a full-body suit designed with the help of creature specialist Rick Baker) becomes more and more integrated into the life of the Jones household, the focus shifts from the incongruousness of human-animal romance to the way in which people are willing to overlook just about anything in the interest of social stability.
Availability: Max Mon Amour is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, rented from your local video store/library, or purchased from Amazon.