Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Le Plaisir

aka House of Pleasure (U.S.)
Max Ophüls, France, 1952, bw (8.2*)
This Ophüls' film of French romance is divided into three episodes, corresponding to three Guy De Maupassant short stories. In the two short stories that bookend the title one, we actually find the bitter sarcasm typical of Maupassant's style, though somewhat softened by Ophüls' sympathic human touch.

The first story is a man who disguises himself as a much younger man so he can still go out on the town and enjoy balls, dancing, and the company of younger women. Meanwhile, his wife waits at home, resigned to his activities and his fight to retain lost youth. It's little more than an introductory vignette into French night life, and is actually sad as "father time" gets us all in the end.

The excellent centerpiece here is "La maison Tellier", the brothel of a French province town, and is typical Ophüls, beautifully designed and filmed; in fact, the art direction was nominated for an Oscar. It's also the longest section of the film. We are shown the brothel of the title first through it's windows, as if an outsider peeking inside, and the camera moves from room to room from this outside position. The house has two parts, one for commoners, like sailors, connected to the bar. The other, for the well-to-do, is upstairs and visited by all the town's wealthiest merchants and politicians, and it's interesting that all these 'respectable' citizens have wives and children at home, and we see them making excuses (lies) to rush off the the brothel after supper.

In the film's integral section, the prostitutes take a day off to go to a First Communion celebration in the countryside, for the niece of the madame. Ophüls shows us this episode with fondness, a willingness to forgive people their faults and pettiness, adding the director's sense of humor. When the brothel is realized closed by the local men, the whole social order is upset and they become beacons of unrest. Sailors start a brawl, and even respectable citizens, such as the mayor and merchants, begin petty quarrels.  The beautiful Danielle Darrieux lends her beautiful talents to this story, as well as Jean Gabin (La Grande Illusion), who plays Joseph at the country estate they visit, and who tries to give Danielle his own personal 'thanks' in her room at one point.

The courtesans are actually moved by the Communion Mass, and are soon all weeping, perhaps realizing some lost innocence of their own. But as soon as it's over, they rush off to the train because "the house can be closed for one night, but not two" (heck, the town would likely be in flames!) In spite of their hurry, it's a gorgeous day so they stop and all pick flowers. The day makes a poetic, pastoral contrast to their typical night life of drinking, dancing, and partying til dawn.

The last story features Simone Simon as a woman seen by an artist on the street, who is infatuated with her beauty. She becomes his model, then lover, as they move in together after his paintings of her start to sell. However, passions based on beauty don't always last, and this story is no different. Perhaps the most cynical response to love of the three stories, it's also the most realistic, showing how many people simply settle for their lives.

Fans of this film (in 1957, Kubrick said it was 'his favorite') and Ophüls should also watch La Ronde, similar in style in that it's a series of stories about romance revolving around common friends who party in the same circle. Perhaps his finest film, however, is The Earrings of Madame D., click for our review (#268 on our top 1000 films compendium).

This is among the most visually beautiful of all the works of Ophüls, who himself is one of the best in French cinema; ironic, since he emigrated there from Germany (born Max Oppenheimer). Ophüls said, "everyone has two fatherlands, his own and Paris". From Germany, he emigrated there because he liked "breakfast with cognac in your glass, gigolos and prostitutes at night".

Note: this style has been copied often, especially from the 90's on.. see our upcoming review of Hsien-hsiang Hou's Three Times for a similar recent film about Taiwan.


About Me

My photo
Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

About This Blog

This is our new template: ProBlogger.

These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

Author at EZines

  © Blogger templates ProBlogger Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP