The problem with tracking down obscure films is that they are often neglected. In this case, those who run the company (Belga Films) that owns the rights to Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (Belgian-French, Salt on the Skin), know nothing about it. If a master of the film does exist in a vault somewhere, it will probably stay there deteriorating. Even the director, Jean-Marie Degèsves, cannot be appealed to because he died in 1999. In 1986, the movie was released in VHS (with hard-coded French subtitles) and that is the only version available. A reader in France graciously summarized the plot since there are no English subtitles available.
The story revolves around three characters. Julien (Richard Bohringer) is a well-to-do bachelor with a number of expensive hobbies like photography and collecting and building model trains, helicopters and boats. His mother seems to have the run of the house—cooking and doing the laundry for him—and eager for him to settle down and have a family. Charlotte (Catherine Frot) and her 9-year-old daughter Juliette (Anne Clignet) break down near his house. Being free-spirited individuals, they decide to cool off in Julien’s above ground pool.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (1)
He is irritated by this and confronts them. But despite this, he invites them in to dry off and make arrangements to repair their vehicle.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (2)
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (3)
Juliette has a refreshing childlike frankness and Julien seems quite charmed by her. So even though it has been an imposition, he decides to lend them 3000 Belgian francs to pay the repair bill. That night he gets a call from Charlotte telling him that Juliette is upset because she left her teddy bear in the car and could he retrieve it for her. Finding the bear, he looks at the ratty old thing with disdain and tosses it into the trash. The next day, he purchases a brand new one and goes to give it to her. At first she is upset with him because that bear had sentimental value but she forgives him.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (4)
Juliette invites him inside and he learns that she is often left alone in the house when her mother works. She takes him to her room to reveal a cache of stuffed animals.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (5)
Charlotte works at a hospital that gives long-term care to the elderly and is dating the doctor. One of her co-workers, Mireille, has been posing nude to make extra money on the side. Julien belongs to a photo club for which Mireille has posed and the members admire the photos. The club wants to plan an exhibition and probably at Julien’s prompting, they decide to go with the theme ”childhood”.
One night, Juliette is left at her grandparents and we see that stuffed animals are regularly given as presents.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (6)
Mother and daughter find Julien in his garden playing with one of his remote control helicopters. He shows Juliette his other models and gives her a ship as a gift. She also learns that he has a photography studio. He asks if he may take photos of Juliette, perhaps as compensation for the outstanding debt. The girl is very excited by the idea and they go into his studio to do the shoot.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (7)
He promises to send copies. Since they had been planning a trip to the beach, he is given the address of the hotel where they would be staying. Instead of mailing the photos, he checks into the hotel himself. Next we see him taking surreptitious shots of Juliette at the beach with some of her friends.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (8)
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (9)
Noticing that there is no postage on the envelope, Charlotte realizes that Julien has checked in and the pair go to the room to thank him for the photos.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (10)
Charlotte and Juliette are taking a bath together, but they can’t get the tap to turn off.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (11)
The girl is told to ask the reception desk for help but, instead, Juliette runs naked down to Julien’s room to get his help.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (12)
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (13)
Later at the hotel bar, Charlotte is unhappy because the doctor she was seeing did not show up as planned. She complains about how men only do things when they want something, not really respecting women for who they are. They only like women when they are in photos. This was meant to imply that Julien’s motives are far from noble.
When Julien returns home, he find his mother worried about where he has been and had invited one of his old friends by for a visit. Though Julien finds her plain and dull, his mother insists they are a perfect astrological match. To get his mother off his back, he tells her rather facetiously that there is already a new girl in his life and she is 9 years old!
Julien has bought ice cream for Juliette and, to better display her books and other treasures, some shelves which he installs in her bedroom. It is not clear when Julien revealed the beach shots, but he must have at this point because one of them can be seen posted on the wall.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (14)
Charlotte’s doctor friend tries to make amends for his oversight, but she snubs him. Returning home, she confronts Julien about why he is lavishing so much attention on Juliette, assuming it is some kind of statement about her poor parenting. Julien simply evades the issue telling her it is his way of paying for the pictures—perhaps referring to the ones he took secretly.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (15)
Charlotte’s estranged husband—and Juliette’s father—suddenly shows up in Brussels to visit and tries to convince them to live in Nice with him. While her parents are talking, Juliette sneaks off to pay a call on Julien. On her way, she explains to a bemused woman on the bus that she is visiting her boyfriend. Upon her arrival, she finds him playing with his helicopter.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (16)
He is startled when she creeps up on him and tickles him and he crashes his helicopter in the pool. Impulsively, he slaps her and she cries that “Nobody loves me!” She jumps into the pool to retrieve his model and he jumps in after her.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (17)
Julien then brings her into the house to dry her off. His mother arrives just as Juliette emerges with a towel wrapped around her. She starts to think that maybe her son really is having an affair with a 9-year-old. When Juliette explains that he had only been taking pictures of her, the mother storms out telling him he should have his head examined.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (18)
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (19)
Juliette calls her mother to come pick her up in the evening. The two spend time together and horse around the house until bedtime.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (20)
Julien prepares the guest room for her but she wants to sleep with him. He explains that such things are not done. She explains that this is how it is done in the movies and that they must first make love. She pushes him onto the bed and kisses him on the forehead before jumping up to go to bed. At this time he presents her with a large brown teddy bear.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (21)
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (22)
Charlotte is confused and upset by the latest developments. When she comes to pick up Juliette, she tries to talk with Julien about it, but he doesn’t really want to. It is 2 a.m. and Juliette is fast asleep. Charlotte agrees to stay the night and Julien sleeps on the sofa. By the time he wakes up in the morning, the two of them are gone. They arrive later in the morning to have breakfast with him. It is clear that Julien and Charlotte are really starting to bond.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (23)
That day at work, one of Juliette’s photos drops out of a folder. To cover up, he tells his coworkers that it is his daughter. They tease him a bit about having secret affairs and he adds that he is a single father. Returning home, he finds Juliette, Charlotte and his mother together at the door. His mother looks very pleased and says she knows everything now. She adds that the astrological signs are quite auspicious.
Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (24)
Certainly this is no blockbuster; the plot is confused and the whole point seems to be to show how a little girl’s charm can open doors and give us hope for a happy ending. The Juliette character—apart from serving as a sort of anima figure—was an important catalyst, able to say and do things the rules of polite adult society would not allow.