“Why does it have to be yes or no?” asks Beatrix, a character in Jacques Martineau and Olivier Ducastel’s new film, Cote d’Azur. “Why not yes and no?”
Here lies the core question the film tries to answer. Cote d’Azur tells the hilariously complicated tale of Beatrix, Marc, Matthieu, Didier, Charly and Martin. Beatrix and Marc are married and have taken their family for a vacation on the coast. Matthieu, Beatrix’s lover at home in Paris, shows up unexpectedly and proceeds to booty call her repeatedly. Charly is Beatrix and Marc’s son, who has also invited his best friend, Martin along. Martin is gay and in love with Charly. Through a series of cruising shenanigans, Charly (who’s straight) picks up Didier, the local plumber, at the local cruising grounds.
It all starts with the father. “We had the Marc character in mind for quite a time,” says Duscastel, “this character who would meet his first love 20 years later,” a situation both filmmakers felt would be more interesting presented as comedy, rather than melodrama or (and here they laugh) a French psychological piece.
The film uses binary oppositions to explore its themes. Charly is straight; Martin is gay and a little bit in love with Charly. Beatrix adores Marc and her family, but gets immense satisfaction from Matthieu, who pressures her to leave Marc and set up house with him. And Beatrix is convinced her son is gay and is determined to accept that fact, no questions asked.
All of these oppositions allow the filmmakers to plant their film firmly in sex farce territory. Cote d’Azur is jammed with the shenanigans that arise from lies, miscommunication and incorrect assumptions, not to mention running gags like men using up all the hot water due to their endless wanking and a mother who gets hot and bothered at the mention of seafood.
But there’s more to it than just rollicking humour. Revisiting themes they worked with in their last film, My Life On Ice (which was most certainly not a farce) Martineau and Ducastel take a look at how a family functions – and how it can continue to function when its traditional structure comes apart at the seams.
In another moment of mirth, Beatrix exclaims, “You wouldn’t understand. You didn’t have a Dutch mother.” She’s referring to Marc’s inability to deal with the fact that his children are sexually active. Dutch mother? “For the French,” Ducastel explains, “the Dutch are supposed to be the most tolerant.” “It’s the first rule of their society,” Martineau adds. But for Beatrix, this becomes a problem. Her desire to be tolerant at all costs makes her blind to the truth – that her son is not, in fact, queer.
So hidden behind the amusement is a compelling question – one that the Dutch are indeed grappling with right now. “They want to be tolerant,” says Ducastel, regarding some of the difficulties surrounding Islamic culture in the Netherlands, “but to stay tolerant, they ask people to leave because they are not tolerant.”
This problem is explored through the other various relationships in the film. Charly and Martin, for example, pose an interesting situation. The idea was to continue the exploration of gay and straight teenagers being friends. “We looked at some aspects of that in My Life On Ice,” says Ducastel. “And we wanted to follow up from that. One teenager is gay and one is not – what is that friendship like? How does it evolve?”
And of course the nonmarital relationships of the parents ask similar questions as well. What happens when Beatrix beds down with Matthieu? How does a family function when the parents don’t want to share the same bed, but want to continue their family? In the end, of course, we find out just how everyone can get what he or she wants. This is a farce, after all – it demands a happy ending.
Finally, Cote d’Azur comes as close as it can to allowing “yes and no” to be an answer to life’s foibles. You can have your cake and eat it too – you just might have to change the recipe a little to suit.