Sunday, April 23, 2017
Based on the short stories of Guy de Maupassant, Le Plaisir is a film that tell three different stories of life in late 19th Century France involving ballrooms, a painter’s studio, a countryside retreat, and bordellos. Directed by Max Ophuls and screenplay by Ophuls and Jacques Natanson, the film revolves around the world of 19th Century France in all of its trials and tribulations. Starring Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux, Daniel Gelin, Claude Dauphin, Gaby Morlay, Madeleine Renaud, Ginette Leclerc, Pierre Brasseur, and Jean Servais as the voice of Guy de Maupassant. Le Plaisir is an evocative and exuberant film from Max Ophuls.
Set in the late 19th Century just years before the 20th Century, the film tell three different stories all based on the theme of pleasure in all of its fallacies. While it is presented as an anthology film, they all play into that theme with the middle section in Le Maison Tellier being the most dominant of the three while the opening story Le Masque and the closing story Le Modele both are given smaller time yet manage to provide enough to play into its theme. Le Masque is set in the world of ballrooms where a man in a mask (Jean Galland) arrives to dance with a young woman (Gaby Bruyere) only to pass out as a doctor (Claude Dauphin) makes a discovery and wonders why this man wears a mask. Le Maison Tellier revolves around a bordello madam (Madeleine Renaud) who takes her fellow prostitutes to the country where her niece is having her first communion while her brother (Jean Gabin) falls for one of the prostitutes in Rosa (Danielle Darreiux). In Le Modele, an artist (Daniel Gelin) falls for a model (Simone Simon) who would be his muse as their relationship starts off as idyllic only to turn into total chaos.
Max Ophuls’ direction is definitely exquisite not just for the setting that he creates but also in the intricate camera work that approaches for all of the stories. The scenes in Le Maison starts off as very extravagant with everyone going into the ballroom but once the man in the mask faints and falls ill. The tone of the story changes where it becomes more intimate with Ophuls maintains an intimacy in the medium shots and close-ups as opposed to the more lavish scenes in the ballroom where Ophuls would use tracking shots and some crane shots to play into the grandness of the ballroom. For Le Maison Tellier, the segment starts off at night in the city where it’s raucous while the scenes in the country are quainter and peaceful which makes the madam and her prostitutes a little uneasy as well as the sense of purity during the community scene as it is too much for Rosa to bear.
Ophuls’ approach to the scenes are more intimate but also has a mixture of long tracking shots as well as some slanted camera angles. In Le Modele, Ophuls would return to broader compositions as it relates to the world of art but it also has some style as it relates to the world of the artist and the model as they’re at odds with each other. Ophuls’ usage of slanted angles and some wide shots play into the tension while the rest of the film would feature moments that are somber. Notably in Le Maison Tellier where bordello regulars learn that the bordello is closed for a small period of time as the men are in a park trying to figure out what to do or what to talk about. It’s a moment that is presented with a simplicity as Ophuls isn’t aiming for style except in the film’s narration by the voice of Guy de Maupassant who would voice his thoughts on the story from time to time. Overall, Ophuls creates a majestic yet compelling film about the lives of different people and their encounter with pleasure.
Cinematographers Christian Matras and Philippe Agostini do brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography with the latter shooting many of footage for Le Modele while the former would create some extravagant lighting for the ballroom scenes in Le Masque and the more naturalistic daytime exteriors in Le Maison Tellier. Editor Leonide Azar does excellent work with the editing as it is very straightforward where it doesn’t go for any kind of style with the exception of a few rhythmic cuts here and there. Production designer Jean d’Eaubonne and set decorator Robert Christides do fantastic work with the design of the ballroom as well as the bordello and the artist’s studio to play into the world of extravagance.
Costume designer Georges Annenkov does amazing work with the design of the costumes from the dresses that the women wear to the costume of the masked man. The sound work of Louis Haller is terrific for its simplicity as it plays to the raucous world of the ballrooms and bordello to the calm atmosphere of the church during the communion scene. The film’s music by Joe Hayos is wonderful for its orchestral-based score that is largely based on the music of the times including the music that people danced too at the time.
The film’s incredible ensemble cast an array of noteworthy performances with Jean Servais in a superb performance as the voice of Guy de Maupassant. From the Le Masque, the performances of Jean Galland as the masked man, Claude Dauphin as the doctor, Gaby Bruyere as the masked man's dance partner, and Gaby Morlay as an old woman taking care of the masked man are all great in displaying the anguish of youth and aging. From Le Modele, the performances of Daniel Gelin and Simone Simon in their respective roles as the artist and the model are remarkable in displaying a love affair that starts out right only to become tumultuous. Much of the film’s ensemble that appears in Le Maison Tellier are fantastic with the small performances from Jocelyne Jany as the madam’s niece, Antoine Balpetre as a patron at the bordello, Rene Blancard as a mayor who is also a regular patron at the bordello, and Henri Cremieux as another rich patron of the bordello.
In the role of some of the prostitutes, there’s Mathilde Casadesus, Ginette Leclerc, Mila Parely in wonderful performances as a trio of prostitutes who have a hard time with the air of silence during the night during their country stay. Pierre Brasseur is very funny as a traveling salesman who tries to sell garments to the prostitutes where he does something very wrong. Jean Gabin is brilliant as the madam’s brother who falls for a young prostitute as he tries to deal with getting his daughter’s first communion to go well. Danielle Darrieux is sublime as Madame Rosa as a young prostitute who is in love with her boss’ brother as she becomes moved by the communion procession as well as the sense of purity in the country. Finally, there’s Madeleine Renaud in a radiant performance as Julia Tellier as a brothel madam who goes to the country to see her niece’s first communion as she doesn’t just cope with life in the country but also how her prostitutes react to a very different environment.
Le Plaisir is a sensational film from Max Ophuls. Featuring a great ensemble cast, amazing camerawork, dazzling art direction, and captivating stories on life’s pleasures and their flaws. It’s an intriguing film that tell three different stories of late 19th Century life and the many complexities of what people will do to find happiness. In the end, Le Plaisir is an incredible film from Max Ophuls.
Max Ophuls Films: (The Bartered Bride) - (The Merry Heirs) - (Liebelei) - (A Love Story (1933 film)) - (Everybody’s Woman) - (The Tender Enemy) - (The Trouble with Money) - (Yoshiwara) - (The Novel of Werther) - (Sarajevo (1940 film)) - (The Exile) - (Letter from an Unknown Woman) - (Caught (1949 film)) - (The Reckless Moment) - La Ronde - The Earrings of Madame de... - Lola Montes - (The Lovers of Montparnasse)
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