“They’re Not Russians, It’s Boney M!” Poltergay (2007)
*CAUTION! Here may be spoilers, and the lover of the Russian Queen…*
When I came across a film about a house being haunted by the spirits of some camp, disco-loving gay men, I did worry that it may stray toward the offensive with regards to stereotyping. Especially when the dvd cover was decked out with cartoon cocks, and satin-clad men dancing in formation. Thankfully – by having the ghostly characters stuck in a seventies timewarp – Eric Lavaine’s Poltergay instead pokes polite fun at the outdated image of sequins and disco balls, making way for some ridiculous comedy and hilarious lines. Best French film I’ve seen this year? Well it is bloody damn good, that’s for sure. I’m still laughing over it.
Starting in an underground basement disco, where music blasts and lights flash, a crowd of immaculately-dressed men throw out some cracking choreography in honour of a friend turning thirty. It’s all fun and games until the bubble machine overflows and messes with the electrics, causing an explosion that decimates the cellar. Not all will survive.
Onwards to the modern day, where Marc (Clovis Cornillac) and his young wife Emma (Julie Depardieu) are moving into the long-forgotten house above.
Instantly, some spectral presences are awakened by Marc’s ‘hot ass’ – going so far as to take Polaroid photographs of it, and stick them to his fridge. Marc is kept up at night by the sounds of ‘Rasputin’ on repeat, seemingly coming from the cellar, although Emma remains unable to hear it. When Emma leaves for an archaeological dig, things get worse for Marc. He finds a ‘Firefighters 1979’ calendar. A dick with wings appears on his wall. The balls on his pool table group into phallic shapes. He turns up at work with a cock drawn on his jacket. Not only does the wardrobe he has yet to build mysteriously assemble itself, but all his clothes have been ironed and put away neatly. Marc is justifiably freaked out by the creases now apparent in his jeans. Calling the police to report a break in, they find nothing but a half-smoked joint in his ashtray and laugh at his apparently drug-induced hallucinations.
When Emma returns, she too is disturbed by the ironing – but not as much as she is at her husband’s inability to maintain an erection due to singing Boney M and seeing men wiggle their asses at him before floating through walls. Storming off to the cellar, Marc is met by five flare-sporting, disco divas who implore him to get his sweet ass over and join them for some wine. Marc’s not in the mood though, and takes to chasing the sparkly lads round the rooms with a shovel. These ghosts are not for leaving – the house is their home. In fact it is also their prison, for trapped within its walls, it is always 1.55am and they will always be in the mood to party.
Emma can’t see the spooks, so assumes Marc is smoking too much hash and has gone a little mental. Tormented by the ghost’s games, and comments on his body, it all gets out of hand one night when he mistakes Emma’s dad for one of them, and sets about him with the shovel. A psychiatrist suggests Marc’s ‘hallucinations’ are a result of repressed homosexual desires, so he takes steps to act upon them by visiting a gay bar. His encounter with a predatory club goer who has a fetish for builders leads to memorable pillow talk: the command “Speak Turkish to me…” has Marc mumbling about kebabs and Galatasaray. The uncomfortable situation leads to his arrest – he loses his wife, his job and his grasp on his sanity. It takes for Marc to hit rock bottom before the gang of trapped ghosts decide to work with him as opposed to against him, and make it their mission to bring Emma back.
An exorcist is brought in, who can himself see the ghosts. It turns out only those who have never had a sexual experience involving a male member can see the spirits, leading to more comedy and raised eyebrows. A Village People party is had. Marc takes his ghostly friends on a trip to the gay district and they see how much things have changed in their absence. They help him get in touch with his sensitive side, and ultimately, win back his wife. A video camera left on its own in the kitchen leads to Emma discovering the ghosts are in fact real, not just figments of her husband’s imagination. With the exorcist unable to free the ghosts, it is the lady of the house who formulates a plan to keep everyone happy – reopen the basement disco!
Marc gets a steady income again, and the ghosts can dance every night for the rest of their afterlives!
The spectres themselves are great. One is sweet and caring, still pining for his lost love – Huggy – who never turned up to the fateful party. One claims not to be gay at all, only present at the disco for the dancing- it is rather touching to see him later exchange a chaste kiss with another ghost who also professes to be straight. The third, clad in leather and sporting peace signs believes all straight men to be fascists. Marc points out his lack of tolerance and gives him a lecture on acceptance, causing him to change his ways. The remaining ghosts are a couple, although one half is frequently enraged by the other’s interest in the female form. Yes, young Ivan does seem to be regularly found in possession of porn and shows quite a liking to Emma’s assets.
Poltergay was a surprisingly sweet film, but it‘s not sickly. Anything straying that way is grounded instantly by humour. For example, the revelation of Marc’s grandmothers lesbian tendencies starts off as a nice display of older generation free thinking, yet ends up with killer put downs of his grandfather’s bedroom abilities. There is a happy ending for all, but the McDonalds chomping exorcist is there to gain a final laugh by likening his penis to a pork roast fit to feed six.
I loved Poltergay, and not just because I love ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M.
All together now, Let’s fucking dance!