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Film Review: Cockles & Mussels aka Crustacés & Coquillages (2005)

From Shakespeare onwards sexual (mis) identity has always been a timeless theme of comedy. As well as confusion it can cause misery too, as well the bard knew. On this score alone Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s Cockles and Mussels (aka Cote D’Azur) is onto a winner. However, in this movie the addition of an inter-generational element exploits the genre to the max.

Married couple Marc (Gilbert Melki) and Beatriz (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) are spending a hot, balmy summer in the family’s Cote D’Azur retreat. Teenage son Charly (Romain Torres) has invited his best friend along who happens to have a crush on him though Charly himself is unsure about his own sexuality. Meanwhile, unable to resist her charm and her delectable curves (and who could blame him?) Beatriz’s lover Martin (Edouard Collin) has turned up too!

While the two boys engage in plenty of horse-play and flirtation (Will Charly ‘turn?’) and Marc snoozes, the delectable Beatriz slips out in the middle of the night for trysts with her amorous lover. Ok, so the viewer might need to suspend disbelief at times, but so what? Cockles and Mussels is a delightfully fluffy film which never takes itself that seriously. It’s rather like A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the rules are temporarily suspended.

That Marc is being cuckolded is ok because he has his own eye on Charly’s rather lithe best friend! Yes indeed, it’s dad who might just be harbouring homo-erotic yearnings, not his son! One of many wonderful scenes occurs when Marc is sunbathing on the beach one day, an eye cocked on the young man’s physique whereupon his wife returns fresh from a quickie. Why is hubby reluctant to join her in the sea to cool off? Something to do with his erection peut-etre? The film is full of such moments.

Crikey, the sight of Mlle Tedeschi in a swimsuit is one of the film’s highlights. And that whimsical smile is simply to die for. She was never this sultry not even in 5 x 2. It just goes to show, Marc might be married to a goddess but hormones will be hormones. Perhaps her flirtations with the insatiable and lustful Martin are justified after all.

It’s little wonder these folk are forever dipping into the (cold) shower! (Seriously, apart from Psycho I can’t recall a film in which a shower has played such a prominent role.) The shower cubicle becomes a place to relieve some of that frustration . . . Anyway, with the cicadas buzzing and sexual tensions unleashed by the sunny climes reaching boiling point, it starts to get really complicated . . .

Perplexed by Charly’s refusal to bat for the other side, one night his pal takes him down to that part of the beach frequented by men in tight t-shirts. Here Charly meets the promiscuous and muscular Didier (Jean Marc Barr) – a plumber who moonlights as a beach gigolo. But Charly’s not for turning. He’s still ‘undecided’ apparently.

When Marc storms off to the beach in pursuit of the young bucks, he finds Didier getting ‘friendly’ with his son’s friend. Seeing red he marches over and proceeds to . . . neck the swarthy plumber! – as you do. Turns out Didier and Marc were once upon a time lovers. As the two hunks re-familiarise, finding themselves surplus to requirements, Charly and his friend skulk off home only to find mummy in the shower with a strange man. Quite a family!

Yes, Cockles and Mussels is rich in farce, light in realism – and why not? It’s a summer interlude on the Cote D’Azur so what did you expect? And just like the hapless couples in a Midsummer’s Night Dream who come of age in the magical Athenian Forest through trial and error, so must this family on the equally magical Cote D'Azur.

All’s well that ends well, for the film concludes the following summer with the pairs now all matched – except young Charly who, it appears, is still undecided. And then, just for the hell of it, and to cap a magical ride, the cast engage in a vaudeville song and dance - a happy, frothy Folies Bergère routine. Bravo!

Ah, Cockles and Mussels, dreamin’ on the Cote D’Azur. So light, so fluffy. Delicious.