Deciding it is time for him to marry, schoolmaster Pierre Tardivet places an ad in the
newspaper for his ideal partner. Of the many replies he receives, he selects Marie-Josée
Vauzange, a middle-aged spinster who, whilst gentle and cultivated, is far from being
an object of beauty. Ten years after their marriage, Pierre is involved in a car
accident. By way of compensation, plastic surgeon Dr Bosc offers to treat Pierre's
injuries in his private clinic. Pierre accepts but, once recovered, he rejects Bosc's
supplementary gift to give his wife a new face. Without Pierre knowing, Marie-Josée
allows Bosc to perform the operation, which transforms her into a beautiful woman.
When she returns home, Pierre refuses to accept her as his wife…
Whilst he is perhaps best known for his social dramas revolving around the deficiencies
of the French legal system, director André Cayatte also made a number of more conventional
melodramas, of which Le Miroir à deux faces
is easily one of his best. Cayatte's understated direction allows his
actors to perform at their best and the result is a compelling,
highly poignant psychological drama in which the crumbling relationship of an ill-matched
couple is portrayed with great compassion, and also a touch of sadistic relish. Far
from being a cosy, comfortable film, Le Miroir à
is about as pessimistic as Cayatte can get, although he tells his story
with more humanity and subtlety than he is usually credited with.
The film gave the iconic performer Bourvil one of his few, and arguably best, dramatic roles.
Better known as a comic actor, his performance in this film demonstrates that he is equally capable
of playing tough, unsympathetic parts, and many spectators may be surprised by this unfamiliar
persona. Michèle Morgan is even less recognisable in the first half of the
film, although this is the result of some very effective make-up work which completely
changes her appearance. The actress turns in another captivating performance, conveying
the sense of a bird who, having spent most of its life trapped in a small cage, finally
discovers freedom. Bourvil and Morgan work together very well, the former's down-to-Earth
simplicity contrasting with the latter's otherworldly nobility. They would subsequently
appear together in the 1960 film Fortunat
, directed by Alex Joffé.
The other notable figure in the film is Gérard Oury, perfecty cast
in one of his most memlorable screen roles - the slightly sinister Dr Bosc, who is a little too
reminiscent of Pierre Brasseur in Les Yeux sans visage (1960)
. Oury also co-wrote the screenplay, which encouraged
him to embark on a career as a film director. The success of his films in the 1960s
made him the most successful and famous mainstream director in France of his day.
The star of Le Miroir à deux
Morgan, would become Oury's real-life partner for the rest of his life - a happy ending
of the kind you would not hope to find in an André Cayatte film.
© James Travers
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
Other drama films of the 1950s from France that you may be interested in are: Jacques Becker's Casque d'or
Claude Autant-Lara's En cas de malheur
Jean Renoir's French Cancan
Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons dangereuses
Jean Delannoy's La Minute de vérité