In one of my favorite Peanuts strips, Linus declares that when he grows up, he wants to go to a great university and study people. “Oh,” says Charlie Brown, “I see. You want to study people so that you can help them.”
“No,” replies Linus. “I’m just nosy.”
In The Model Couple (1975), William Klein sets his satirical sights on social science and—well before Big Brother—reality TV. The plot concerns Jean-Michel (André Dussolier) and Claudine (Anémone—yes, Anémone), a couple who are selected to be the subjects of the least controlled experiment in history. The experimenters (Jacques Boudet and Zouc—yes, Zouc) have been charged by the French government with monitoring the daily life of an average couple (they judge Jean-Michel and Claudine to be “76% average,” which suggests that coursework in statistics was not required for their degrees in “psychosociology”) so as to appropriately engineer the perfect city of the future.
|the model couple, a film written and directed by william klein. playing may 29 at the walker art center, 1750 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($8) and information, see walkerart.org.|
The experiment is, naturally, broadcast over television, and product placements are pervasive. (The most enjoyable aspect of the film, perhaps ironically, is its showcasing of European household design from a decade when everyone thought that the home of the future would really look like The Home of the Future.) The experimenters are very much present, bantering with Jean-Michel and Claudine about their living room arrangement and even allowing the couple to watch themselves on television. Eventually, things get catty and Jean-Michel complains that the experimenters are on a passive-aggressive power trip; in response, Zouc curtly observes that the previous night, as in 13% of all sexual encounters, Jean-Michel experienced premature ejaculation.
Some of this is fun to watch, and Dussolier and Anémone touchingly convey genuine mutual affection in the madhouse atmosphere, but long stretches of the film are tedious. The couple’s dinner with a slimy government official and a pompous American scientist seems to unfold in agonizing real time, and a late development involving teenage terrorists makes even less sense than the plot of Klein’s messy 1969 satire Mr. Freedom.
The Model Couple, like Mr. Freedom, is blunt but effective in conveying its message—here, that standardization is folly and social science is chasing a chimera. As I’ve observed elsewhere, in actuality there may be no one more acutely aware of the idiosyncrasies of humankind than one who has tried to catalog them…but truth be told, Linus probably isn’t the only would-be psychosociologist who has vaguely creepy ulterior motives. “What we’re really interested in,” admits Boudet at one point, “is how perverse the social sciences can be.”
Jay Gabler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.
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