Monday, November 12, 2018

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

Based on the novelette Jacques le fataliste by Denis Diderot, Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (The Ladies of the Bois du Boulogne) is the story of a society lady who tries to create a scandalous affair between her former lover and a prostitute. Directed by Robert Bresson and screenplay by Bresson and Jean Cocteau, the film is a revenge story of sorts that has a woman trying to trick her lover by unknowingly get into an affair with a prostitute to destroy his social status. Starring Paul Bernard, Maria Casares, Elina Labourdette, Lucienne Bogaert, and Jean Marchant. Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is a rich yet riveting film from Robert Bresson.

A socialite is spurned by her lover as their relationship starts to cool prompting her to ruin him by setting him up with another woman unaware that she’s a prostitute. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into a woman scheming her former lover by ensuring that he becomes ruined in his prospects to find a relationship that could fulfill him. The film’s screenplay by Robert Bresson and Jean Cocteau with the latter providing the dialogue doesn’t just explore the ideas of revenge but also those who become involved in this scheme who cope with the implications of hurting someone in this act of revenge. Helene (Maria Casares) is a woman that expects to have everyone fall in line with her while also having the freedom to spend time with other men. For Jean (Paul Bernard), he is devoted to her but admits that their love for each other isn’t what it used to be.

Feeling hurt, Helene wants to get back at Jean though remaining his friend yet she notices the cabaret dancer Agnes (Elina Labourdette) who works to support herself and her mother Madame D. (Lucienne Bogaret) as the latter knows Helene. Agnes had aspired to be a ballerina but struggles until Helene offers her and her mother a job where Agnes has to seduce Jean where Helene would pay off their debts. Agnes agrees to do the job as she isn’t impressed by Jean at first yet finds his determination to woo her fascinating where the two begin something much deeper where Agnes decides to not go with Helene’s plans only to deal with the financial implications of what will happen to her.

Bresson’s direction doesn’t emphasize a lot on any kind of style rather than some long shots to play into the drama. Still, Bresson would create some intoxicating compositions in some of the locations in and around Paris that play into the world of high society with the waterfall of Bois de Boulogne as its centerpiece is where all four main characters meet in one entire scene. It is presented in a wide and medium shot as much of the scenes of the characters interacting is used mainly in the latter setting to play into the drama as well as this growing romance between Jean and Agnes. Bresson would keep the drama low-key while playing into this air of intrigue and suspense in how Helene is trying to create chaos with Jean unaware of what is happening to him though he never thought he did anything wrong to Helene. Bresson wouldn’t use a lot of close-ups in order to play into the emotion of the characters as it adds to the intrigue which would climax with a key event for everyone involved. Overall, Bresson crafts a rapturous yet haunting film about a woman scheming to ruin her ex-lover’s life with the help of a prostitute.

Cinematographer Philippe Agostini does excellent work with the film’s black-and-white photography as its usage of lighting for many of the interior scenes as well as for the scenes set at night. Editor Jean Feyte does terrific work with the editing as it has a few rhythmic cuts for some of the drama as much of it is straightforward with the exception of transitional fade-outs. Production designer Max Douy, plus set decorators James Allan and Robert Clavel, does amazing work with the interiors of Helene’s posh apartment as well the small apartment that Agnes and her mother live in. The sound work of Robert Ivonnet and Rene Louge is superb for its natural approach to sound in making sure objects sound sparse without embellishing it. The film’s music by Jean-Jacques Grunenwald is wonderful for its orchestral score that is mainly driven by lush strings that play into the romance and drama.

The film’s fantastic cast include a couple of notable small roles from Yvette Etievant as Helene’s chambermaid and Jean Machant as Helene’s date in the film’s opening scene in Jacques. Lucienne Bogaert is excellent as Madame D. as Agnes’ mother who has a history with Helene as she takes Helene’s offer as a way to cover her debts only to become troubled by Agnes’ emotional state. Paul Bernard is brilliant as Jean as Helene’s former lover who feels like he hasn’t done enough to please Helene where he meets Agnes and falls for her though ponders what does she do unaware of being played.

Elina Labourdette is amazing as Agnes as a cabaret dancer/prostitute dealing with her financial strife as she takes Helene’s offer to seduce and woo Jean only to get to fall for him as she begins to have second thoughts about the job she’s being asked to do. Finally, there’s Maria Casares in an incredible performance as Helene as a socialite who feels spurned by her former lover as she seeks revenge while playing a game of manipulation on both Jean and Agnes that would cause a lot of trouble with Helene coming out on top.

Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is a phenomenal film from Robert Bresson. Featuring a great cast, a riveting story of revenge and manipulation, gorgeous visuals, and a sumptuous film score. It’s a compelling yet rich film that play into the awful deeds that some will do to hurt others as it’s one of Bresson’s early gems. In the end, Les dames du Bois de Boulogne is a sensational film from Robert Bresson.

Robert Bresson Films: (Les affairs publique) – (Les Anges du peche) – Diary of a Country Priest - A Man Escaped - Pickpocket - The Trial of Joan of Arc - Au Hasard Balthazar - Mouchette - (A Gentle Woman) – (Four Nights of a Dreamer) – (Lancelot du Lac) – (The Devil Probably) – L'Argent

© thevoid99 2018


Brittani Burnham said...

Every time I read your blog I wish I've seen more French cinema. lol

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-And there's still a chance as Barnes & Noble is having their 50% sale on Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-Rays. Especially as their streaming service FilmStruck is going to be gone in an end of the month so there's still a chance to seek out some of these films from France. This film maybe a minor Bresson film as it was the last film he did working with professional actors but it's still an incredible film.