There hasn’t been a new Bertrand Blier film in town for almost a decade—the largely forgotten Mon Homme (1996), released here in ’98, was apparently the last to play commercially—so How Much Do You Love Me? (2005), at the Gene Siskel Film Center through Thursday (11/15), comes as a welcome (or maybe quasi-welcome, at least for some people) provocation. Since if not for Blier’s audience-baiting example, we’d never have had Gaspar Noé to kick around with impunity … or for that matter Catherine Breillat.

Not that Blier’s any more warm and cuddly now than he was a generation ago, and if anything How Much showcases the old antinomian at full misanthropic throttle. Though maybe it’s just a matter of the devil seeing things more clearly—the “delusional” fantasies of homo economicus parading under the obfuscating rubric of beauty, love, romance. Since for Blier, everything comes down to a kind of free-market free-for-all—or “Love in the Time of Capital,” to borrow from Garcia Marquez—and what’s usually subliminal in negotiations of “the heart,” as we familiarly describe it, necessarily becomes more literal and overt, an ideological stripping of masks, of emotional bad faith. Too beautiful for you? Not if you can afford it.

The avatar of that mind-set here is Gerard Depardieu‘s rapacious, calculating thug, so menacingly outsize the screen goes into eclipse (nice touch!) when the camera pans across his back. Take away my “beauty,” he warns—indicating Monica Bellucci, his all-too-available belle dame sans merci—and be prepared to compensate my loss. Except Bellucci’s hardly more than an illusion herself—compare her iconic frozen presence to the competition’s more exuberant flexibility: “not corrupted yet,” she says of the call girl in question, but it’s about authentic responses too. Which Blier does seem to recognize, that even these perennial stereotypes of seduction need to be deconstructed. But not refuted, which is arguably a saving strength. Since beyond the calculation and cynicism (always “unsentimental,” except when it isn’t), everyone’s still just unpredictably wacko!

All of which seems perfectly hilarious to me … but then I think Catherine Breillat’s a gas too