Before a court of law, Julien Sorel confesses to the attempted murder of the woman he
loved and asks that he be condemned to death. As he awaits the verdict, he reflects
on the events which led him to this tragic outcome. The son of a carpenter, Julien
was driven by an obsessive ambition to better himself and ascend the social ladder.
His first position was as a private tutor for the wealthy Monsieur Rénal, whom
he repays by having a passionate love affair with his wife. When he is forced to
separate from Madame Rénal, Julien decides to enter a seminary to train to be a
priest. When this fails to meet his aspirations, he gets a job as personal secretary
to the Marquis de la Mole in Paris - which ends in another amorous entanglement, this
time with his employer's daughter. When he hears that Madame Rénal has written
a condemning letter to the Marquis, Julien has no other course but to take his revenge...
This 1954 film from director Claude Autant-Lara is probably the most well-known and finest
adaptation of Stendhal's complex literary masterpiece, Le Rouge et le noir
Beautifully filmed in Eastmancolor, with captivating acting performances and a script
that vividly evokes Stendhal's celebrated novel, the film exemplifies the French quality
period drama for this decade.
The film features 1950s French heart-throb Gérard Philipe, yet again playing the
flawed romantic hero, and the magnificent Danielle Darrieux. Whilst Philipe is clearly
older than the character he plays in the film (by at least 10 years), the actor plays
his part with a heart-rending conviction, combining seductive charm, child-like vulnerability
and roguish impudence to make his portrayal very different to the conventional romantic
hero and hence thoroughly fascinating. Darrieux is equally mesmerising, particularly
her moving scenes towards the end of the film, which remind us of her remarkable performance
in Max Ophül's Madame de...
Although this adaptation of Le Rouge et le noir
runs to three hours, it cannot
really hope to fully capture the scale and power of the original novel. Yet,
even though a lot of the content from the novel has been dropped or simplified,
the film still manages to retain much of its impact - not just in the central narrative
about the ill-fated Julien, but also in the wider social messages, such as the injustices
of class divisions and the double-standards of Church leaders. One of the best sequences
in the film involves a group of trainee priests sitting down to eat a boiled egg - a simple
and amusing scene, yet one which seems to somehow capture the whole of spectrum of human
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