Michel Deville had been a pleasant mainstream alternative to the typically highbrow intellectualism of the Nouvelle Vague exponents when it came to cinema during the sixties and seventies; his storytelling was conventional, and on the other end of the scale, his humour and satire was gentler in comparison to the likes of Bertrand Blier. His comedy "Le mouton enragé" [Eng. Title: Love at the Top] came out around the same time as Blier's more notorious "Les valseuses", and while both of them were a satire on modern society, the former is distinctly more 'humane', notwithstanding the killing of some of its main characters during the course of the film.
The film begins with a normally shy bank clerk Nicolas (Jean-Louis Trintignant) unexpectedly chatting up a young woman by the river - he'd never done that before, only to discover on his date the next day that she's a prostitute. But determined to score nevertheless, he forces the woman, Marie-Paule (Jane Birkin), into feigning genuine sexual interest in him. He even decides not to pay her after having sex!
Despite that, Marie-Paule strangely takes to the guy and soon enough, they become friends, and partners in crime when it came to cynical manipulation of wealthy victims in their quest for social mobility, thanks to the urging and scheming of his disenchanted best friend Claude (Jean-Pierre Cassel). Claude, unlucky in love, and too bad a writer to get his work published, feels he has finally struck upon new material for a new book, proving that one could transform an average achiever such as Nicolas into a success story, both in terms of seducing women and gaining social status.
After convincing Nicolas to quit his bank job, Claude assigns him the task of seducing Roberte (Romy Schneider), the beautiful and lonely young wife of an ageing academic. Following Nicolas' successful conquest, the unsuspecting Roberte falls truly in love with him, and will grow increasingly reckless in hiding her affair from her husband. In the process, new contacts open up for the ever non-committal Nicolas, to network and exploit.
Nicolas ignores Claude's advise to move on from Marie-Paule, and instead uses her as bait to build links with a well-connected businessman. She willingly obliges, and before long, she marries him and becomes heiress to his fortune, whilst carrying on her fun and games with Nicolas in secret. Together, they ruthlessly work their way to the top of the social ladder and respectability, whilst paying scant attention to their conscience...
Deville wryly pokes fun at a selfish society where success is unscrupulously pursued, and even with best of intentions, morality is set aside during the process. The film is hurriedly paced giving little time for self-reflection, and much like Blier's "Le valseuses" and Chabrol's "Les innocents aux mains sales", doesn't flinch in showing us the shameless side of modern society. Even if it looks a bit dated now, the film is reasonably well-made, and Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon DVD Link [PAL]
The Nudity: Jane Birkin, Romy Schneider, Betty Berr, Florinda Bolkan, and Christine Boisson
The main reason to feature the film here is the relatively short but memorable, almost iconic, nude scenes featuring an adolescent looking Jane Birkin. Romy Schneider, despite only brief nudity in her scenes, is at her most beautiful, and an elegant Florinda Bolkan dazzles, even if she gets nude only for the exclusive eyes of Jean-Louis Trintignant in a scene. There is also a short nude streak from a very young (and uncredited) Christine Boisson to watch out for.