Details: (M), 93 mins, France, English
Synopsis: Marc and Emma have it all planned. Newly-married and riding the first flush of domestic bliss, they have found the perfect fixer-upper: a charming, derelict house which they snared at a bargain price and are looking forward to restoring to its former glory. What they don\'t know, however, is that decades earlier their potential family home was once the location of an underground gay club, where a posse of disco-loving homosexuals would bump and grind the evening away at the famous foam parties. But one fateful night, in the middle of Boney M\'s \"Ra-Ra-Rasputin\", a faulty foam machine electrocuted five of the club\'s most fervent disco divas. They were never seen again...until now. Marc starts to see queer sights in and around his house, and the strains of Boney M ring constantly in his ears. The problem is that his wife, friends, colleagues and family do not see the gay ghosts, and begin to suspect that Marc\'s visions are manifestations of his own sexual repression.
Fruity spooks a Gallic hoot
It’s a long-running complaint that commercial cinema portrays gays as little more than ridiculous caricatures. Most gay men are the mincing-but-wise neighbour, offering relationship and wardrobe advice to the lovelorn professional gal-next-door (I’m looking at you, Rupert Everett!). Most lesbians are spiky-haired, overall-clad, broad-shouldered types who all hang out in clubs where the misbegotten yuppie-hero ends up by mistake. Sometimes gays are serial killers too, and once they were cowboys, but that’s about it.
Poltergay, a mainstream French horror-farce that manages to embrace the overtly-feminine gay caricature with a heartfelt sweetness, is a delightfully dippy romp that should go some way to redressing the cinematic balance.
Few comedies start with a fatal fire in a 1979 underground gay nightclub in which five revellers perish (seems that soap-suds and strobe lights don’t mix), but this tragic opening sets director Claude Lavaine’s spirited romp into motion. Move ahead to 2006, and young couple Marc (Paris 36’s Clovis Cornillac) and Emma (Julie Depardieu) purchase what is now the ultimate fixer-upper – a dusty shell of a building with a reputation for the unexplained.
Soon, the poltergeist activity begins; the haunting strains of Boney-M’s Rasputin wake Marc late at night and unexplained polaroids of his sudsy bottom turn up, stuck to the fridge with pink letter-magnets. Emma registers none of this and when Eric’s behaviour becomes more erratic and intolerable (while making love to Emma, Marc witnesses a spectral moon and screams “Did you just see a man’s arse?!”), she leaves him.
It soon becomes apparent that the cellar of the home was the venue of the fire and the five who died are now raving, ghostly queens, bent on flirting with their new landlord, regardless of its effect on his life. When Eric becomes a depressed and near-insane wreck, the Saucy Cinq take charge and use their flair for the extravagant to help turn the sourpuss into the cat’s pyjamas.
Much of Poltergay’s success lies squarely at the feet of leading man Cornillac. As the straight man to the shenanigans of the Fruity Five, his command of the slapstick pratfall, sublime double-take and comedic panic is a delight. The ghosts themselves, led by a melancholic Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus as Bertrand, all play it to the hilt, representing stereotypical images from the 1970s gay movement. The sequence where they dress as the Village People to explore modern Paris, though in hindsight rather predictable, is great fun.
It’s a little disappointing and somewhat ironic that the female characters are so poorly defined and one-dimensional. Julie Depardieu is wide-eyed, a bit silly and drops Marc rather too quickly; Anne Caillon as the slutty Valerie is no more than a bonk-hungry maneater. These are the roles that would normally go to the gay character in straight cinema – the plot-device that deserves more – and it’s a shame the strong voice afforded the male cast isn’t followed through in the female roles.
Despite that icky title that sounds like a porn film parody and ultimately undersells the film, Poltergay manages to find a winning, fun-loving balance that should satisfy open-minded straight viewers and the gay audience in equal measure.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
This December, we're celebrating Oz film by screening four classic titles.
Get ready to roar for our week-long fest of freaks and beasts.
Marc Fennell dabbles in the dark side, with a season devoted to Very Bad Deeds.