The Closet

A STRAIGHT MAN SAVES HIS JOB BY TELLING HIS CO-WORKERS HE IS GAY IN THE CLOSET
To come out or not to come out. That is the question for many gays and lesbians at work. The consequences could be no laughing matter. Accordingly, Le Placard (The Closet) is perhaps the most refreshingly therapeutic gay comedy released in the twenty-first century. Directed by Francis Veber, who gave us La Cage aux Folles (1978) about a gay man trying to be straight, Le Placard focuses on François Pignon (played by Daniel Auteuil), a nerdy straight accountant who learns that he is about to be fired at a condom manufacturing plant because he is so unobtrusively boring that he will not be missed. Two years earlier, he received another blow when his wife Christine (played by Alexandra Vandernoot) and teenage son Franck (played by Stanislas Crevillen) abandoned him. About to jump to his death from his apartment, Belone (played by Michel Aumont), the new neighbor in the next apartment, spots Pignon, discourages him from jumping, and over coffee engages him in conversation about a way to guarantee that he will not be fired. Belone, an industrial psychologist who was fired twenty years earlier when his gay sexual orientation was discovered, seeks personal retroactive therapy by helping Pignon. The ploy is to get a rumor spread at work that Pignon is gay. After using a computer to transfer Pignon’s face into four gay bar snapshots, a packet is mailed to his accountant coworkers, who in turn are expected to distribute copies around the industrial plant. When the president of the corporation, Kopel (played by Jean Rochefort), realizes that firing a gay could produce a boycott of the trademarked condom by gays all over Europe, Pignon’s job is secure. However, Félix Santini (played by Gerard Depardieu), captain of the company’s soccer team, is homophobic; he makes nasty remarks about gays and thus about Pignon and thereby is a threat to the tranquillity of the factory. Top management decides to play a practical joke on Santini, by insisting that he befriend Pignon. Accordingly, Santini must stop the homophobic expletives and be nice to Pignon or lose his job. Thereafter, a hilarious situation comedy develops, a farce rather than a documentation of how far gays have gone in achieving equal treatment on the job. The most notable subplot involves Pignon’s immediate boss, Mlle. Bertrand (played by Michèle Laroque), who is suspicious that the photos are fakes; after she tries to strip off his shirt while he is sleeping off an overindulgence in alcohol in order to see whether the tattoos in the photos match those on his body, Pignon files a sexual harassment complaint, whereupon she is slated to be fired. Pignon then saves her job by protesting to the corporation president; toward the end of the film, after she spots a telltale clue that the photo is old, the two have sex in full view of visiting Japanese corporate executives. Meanwhile, Santini buys Pignon a lunch and a pink sweater, the credit card receipts of which infuriate his spouse; when she ultimately moves out, he gets lonely, flies into a rage when he is turned down on asking Pignon to move in with him, and ends up in a mental institution. The most zany episode in the film occurs when management insists that Pignon should ride on the company’s float in Paris’ gay pride parade, and he is filmed live on television wearing a large condom as a hat. On seeing him on television, his son Franck is delighted to learn that his father is not a nerd after all; he goes to visit his estranged father, and the two smoke a joint together. When Pignon’s wife protests that he is corrupting their son, Pignon finds new brashness in telling her off. Having become a real man by pretending to be gay, ex-nerd Pignon then marries Bertrand. No synopsis can properly capture all the subplots, including an unpleasant episode of gay-bashing, but many issues raised are extremely important for employees, gay or straight, for which the Political Film Society has nominated The Closet as best film of 2001 in the category human rights. First, sexual orientation may not a matter than can be kept out of the consciousness of coworkers nowadays; many workers are quite curious about the sexuality of others, so those in the closet may do a disservice to themselves and others. Indeed, one benefit of coming out is that homophobes may show their immaturity and thus unsuitability as employees when they tonguelash gays and lesbians, thereby betraying their own latent homosexuality. Employers, moreover, may now be more aware that gays are intelligent consumers with enough economic power and psychological tenacity to ruin a company by a boycott of its products. However, company guidelines to assist employees or employers in dealing with gays and lesbians, are often invented situationally rather than professionally. From my own experience, homophobic coworkers and closet bisexuals will not attend voluntary consciousness raising workshops about the problems of gays, lesbians, and the transgendered, so they must be required of all. MH