I know I have seen this very peculiar film at least twice previously, but the ins and outs of the bizarre plot have not stayed with me. I could only remember the oddity of svelte housewife Charlotte Rampling being madly in love with an outsize chimpanzee. This emphasis on an obsessive sexual relationship should come as no surprise when one notes that the director was Nagisa Oshima, the man responsible for the classic Japanese sex-fests of "In the Realm of the Senses" and "Empire of Passion". However why and how he ended up directing this French film with both English and French dialogue is something of a mystery.
Set in Paris where her husband Anthony Higgins is a diplomat, Rampling is the mother of a young son who fills in the boredom of her days with an assortment of lovers. Her husband is equally involved in casual flings, but finds his own green-eyed monster when a private detective informs him that his wife has rented a walk-up flat in a seedy district where she spends most of her afternoons, but that there has been no sighting of her probable lover. Higgins descends on the flat, finding her in bed with a sheet-covered companion and prepares to play the usual angry husband scenario. To his horror he uncovers his hairy rival, while his cool wife remains unfazed. And as any sophisticated Parisienne might do, he decides that the best solution is to move Max into his own room in their sprawling flat.
Gradually Max becomes an accepted part of their daily routine, eating with them at the breakfast table and charming their son. Only their maid, a mildly comic turn by Spanish actress Victoria Abril, seems to be allergic to 'monkey fur' and threatens to leave. Meanwhile Higgins is obsessed by what his wife and Max might get up to in private and when his wife is out, he hires a prostitute to entice the animal while he watches; the only problem is that Max doesn't fancy her! Faced with the ultimatum of 'Max or me', Rampling insists that she loves them both and barricades her son and herself in Max's room. Even potential violence doesn't resolve the situation when Max seizes Higgins' gun and the police arrive.
I suppose this film is meant to be some sort of dark comedy on what constitutes sexual attraction or an oblique satire on traditional French bedroom farce. No one can really understand Rampling's need for Max (nor his for her) and their well-meaning friends keep dragging in so-called experts to proffer their unwanted advice. By the end of the film after an early escape by the animal and a subsequent near-pining away in Rampling's absence while visiting her ailing mother, the family settles into their own way of life, affection and acceptance.
The animal seems so realistic that it comes as a surprise to discover that Max is actually a man-in-a-monkey suit, tweaked by special effects artists. Whether it is meant to make it less repugnant to the audience that Rampling is not actually nuzzling a real animal, this subtefuge really doesn't work and one remains none the wiser as to what the glacial Rampling derives from her strange passion.