Fresh from winning the best actor Oscar, Jean Dujardin returned to France and into the middle of what seems to have been a carefully-orchestrated campaign to hype his new film The Players (Les Infidèles).
In a shrewd exercise in dating and media manipulation, Mars Distribution launched the saucy sex comedy, which Dujardin produced, co-wrote, co-directed and stars in, on 500 prints on February 29.
The media campaign in France sought to exploit the film's raunchy aura, with one billboard (see below) erected in early February showing Dujardin holding a woman's legs in the air underneath the tag line, “I'm going to a meeting.” Another poster depicted his co-star and co-director Gilles Lellouche with a woman's head at his crotch and the caption, “It's going to cut out. I'm entering a tunnel.”
Those ads were promptly withdrawn on the advice of ARPP, France's authority for the regulation of advertising, whose head Stephane Martin told French newspaper Le Parisien,
“This campaign is against the rules … even if it relates to the subject of the film, a comedy about adultery.”
Dujardin and Lellouche also featured on the cover of movie magazine Premiere wearing black blazers, shirts, ties and no pants with their hands placed over their private parts.
Controversy flared again when it was revealed after the Academy Awards that a scene from the film which makes light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had been deleted for fear it would have ruined Dujardin's Oscar prospects.
In the sketch, Dujardin plays a New York philanderer who takes a girlfriend to a hotel room. Talking to his wife on the phone while he's seducing the woman, Dujardin stands by a window where, in the background, an airplane flies into the World Trade Centre, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Oblivious to the atrocity, Dujardin's character tells his wife: "Yes, yes, my darling, everything is fine!" Le Point magazine claimed the scene "could have been fatal" to his chances of success at the awards and that he feared “the world of American cinema would take offence.”
Dujardin hasn't publicly responded to those reports but he told Cineuropa, “I had a desire for a certain excess, to go far with words, far with the body. We speak to free and consenting adults. The aim is never to shock gratuitously but to go after things, to suggest situations that are funny and a little subversive, to shake you and make you react.
“This project allows me to offer something else, to not become The Artist. I don't want to let myself be trapped in a frozen image. I want to always surprise, even if this means burning my wings. It's not calculated, it's my nature.”
Dujardin, who plays five different characters, says the idea came to him after he heard about a man who, every time he turned off his cell phone to cheat on his wife, would buy a movie ticket to serve as his alibi.
Other segments were directed by Emmanuelle Bercot, Fred Cavayé, Alexandre Courtes and Eric Lartigau.
Critical reaction mostly has been positive. Screen Daily praised the film as “consistently vulgar, often funny, occasionally touching and deeply, deeply French” while predicting, “The average French viewer will take in stride the unflattering poses its lead duo strikes, from strenuous whoring to strenuous masturbation in the context of tales that mock the mostly pathetic antics of men oblivious to their own inherent ridiculousness.”
The Hollywood Reporter opined the film is “ never much more than an extended sketch comedy whose longer segments tend to wear out their welcome” but said there are a “few clever and undeniably funny moments that make the trip somewhat worthwhile.”
However, Le Monde was unimpressed, declaring, “Les Infidèles has the effect of a time machine ride to a time we don't miss.”
Dujardin, who recently starred in French films The Clink of Ice, Little White Lies and Lucky Luke, has roles lined up in Eric Rochant's spy thriller Möbius, Manu Joucla's comedy Le Petit Joueur and Fabrice Camoin's drama A Stormy Summer Night.
The big question: Can the 39-year-old star, who has a limited command of English and who signed with US agent William Morris Endeavor in January, make it in Hollywood?