The Best Way to Walk(Wellspring, 1.25.2005)
At a summer camp for boys, drama instructor Philippe (Patrick Bouchitey) has started taking his theatrical interests a little too far. One evening, the camp's athletic director Marc (Patrick Dewaere) walks in on Philippe and notices that his colleague is dressed in women's clothing. Marc is initially puzzled but, before long, an uncertain attraction develops between the two men. At the same time, Philippe desperately tries to avoid his forbidden feelings and gets intimately involved with a woman. This triggers an elaborate game of jealousy and humiliation, all amid the complexities and politics of a French summer camp.
As something of a Claude Miller novice, I sought this DVD out on the strength of its reputation alone. I wasn't disappointed but I was surprised. With the DVD cover and plot synopsis above, you'd probably expect something bleak, depressing, and unpleasant. Instead, you get something quite different. This film is lively, energetic, and unpredictable; a dramatic human comedy in the finest French tradition.
As a summer camp film, The Best Way to Walk is right up there with classics of that genre like Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer. Just kidding. But this isn't as far from the truth as you might think. While it doesn't feature much broad physical comedy, The Best Way to Walk has a surprising joviality and energy that's reminiscent of Francois Truffaut's films about children, particularly The 400 Blows and Small Change, as well as the early films of Bertrand Blier (Going Places, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs), which were made at roughly the same time (the mid-70s).
Miller's film also deals with adult relationships and confused sexual identity in a sensitive, appealing, and relaxed way. The juxtaposition of these relationships with a pack of playful children swimming, playing soccer, and even dodgeball is particularly effective. It should also be noted that the boys' bizarre theatrical productions bring to mind both A Charlie Brown Christmas and Max Fischer's bizarre plays in Rushmore. The latter parallel isn't surprising, given Wes Anderson's known love for French cinema of this period.
The non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer is fine but nothing special. The only feature of note should be useful to my fellow Claude Miller neophytes. Wellspring has included a trailer gallery with brief introductions to several other Claude Miller films, including Alias Betty, L'Effrontee, Mortelle Randonnee, and the omnibus film Lumiere and Company (my only previous exposure to Miller's work).
This is a rich and nuanced film with a sense of tone and pace that feels authentic to the summer camp experience. This may be one of the best French films of the 70s and it's essential viewing for anyone with a fondness for summer camp movies. -- Jonathan Doyle