Dirty Dishes (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Housewife has nervous breakdown.

Armelle (Carole Laure) is a full-time housewife taking care of 2 young boys while her husband Marc (Pierre Santini) works a job designing car tires. Armelle is bored with the mundane chores that she must do day after day and looks forward to Thursday evenings, which is the one night that her and husband can go out, but since Marc’s job has become very demanding he can no longer do that, which makes her feel even more shut-in. She occasionally goes out with her two friends (Liliane Rovere, Liza Braconnier), but they’re trapped in the same thankless domestic routine as she is. One day she snaps and has a sexual tryst on her cluttered kitchen floor with an architect (Daniel Sarky) who works across the street, but this doesn’t subside her feelings of rebellion, so she steals a car, which almost gets her in an accident. Eventually her husband realizes her frustrations and promises that things will be different, but will this really bring the change that she wants?

Written and directed by the daughter-in-law of the legendary filmmaker Luis Bunuel, the film is a mixture of Diary of a Mad Housewife that came out 8 years earlier and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was released 10 years after this one. There’s even a bit of Jeanne Dielman mixed in for good measure. The one thing that this film does do well is focusing on the mundane tasks that she does each day, which gives the viewer a clear impression of her trapped feeling. Unfortunately it doesn’t go deeper than that and ends up just being another feminist comedy that fails to have anything unique to say from the other films from that era with the same theme.

There are a some amusing lines uttered here and there, but the laughs are sporadic and there should’ve been tighter editing, which would’ve given it a frenetic pace and made the absurd moments seem less out-of-place. There’s also a few really weird tangents that come out of nowhere including a psychotic man that invades the families picnic at a park and tries running them down with his car that has no connection to the main story and wasn’t needed as was the segment at a grocery store where Arnelle breaks up a fist-fight between two men only to find that she’s been a victim of a candid camera-like prank.

There are a couple of good poignant moments particularly the scene where the couple is lying in bed and Armelle states to her husband that she feels scared and he replies: “Why, are you afraid something is going to happen to you?” and she responds: “No, I’m afraid nothing will happen and everything will remain the same.”, which hits home the characters quandary perfectly.

Laure’s is radiant and soaking in her beauty helps smooth over the slow spots. The scene where she gets rejected as a model of a dish detergent ad because she’s ‘too beautiful and no one would ever believe she does her own dishes’ is quite funny as that’s all we’ve seen her do since the film began.

The ending however offers no conclusion or answers. The character remains stuck in the same situation that she was at the start with only vague promises from the spouse that things ‘would be different’, but in cases like these that usually means things will eventually just go back to the way things were. The viewer needs to see the change for themselves, or how the character learns to adapt to the problem by finding ways to make the monotony seem more interesting, but the film shows none of this making it feel ultimately like a waste of time as both a satire and character study.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joyce Bunuel

Studio: Planfilm

Available: VHS

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