Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Les Dames du bois de Boulogne


1945, France, directed by Robert Bresson

Rating: ***


Unlike the austere films that Bresson began to make from 1950 onwards, Les Dames du bois de boulogne drips with the style and melodrama of classical Hollywood (it's not hard to imagine someone like Bette Davis in the role so perfectly played here by María Casares). A tale of very chilly revenge (a society lady takes such exception to the end of her relationship with a rather feckless aristocrat that she engineers his reputation-destroying wedding to a prostitute), the film has dialogue by Jean Cocteau, and it's not hard to see a trace of fairy tale in the conclusion, although it's closer to the redemptive power of the concluding moments of Bresson's own Pickpocket rather than the texture of Cocteau's La Belle et la bête, which was being shot when this film was released. The film's great weakness is the insipid Paul Bernard, who plays the aristocratic lover; Cocteau's occasionally delirious meditations on the turmoils of love fail to convince when uttered by such a bland leading man. It's the same problem that hampers Brief Encounter: the passionate declarations of a passionless individual, but then that, too, isn't entirely uncharacteristic of Bresson, who often favoured remarkably flat performances.

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