Claude, a modest music teacher, has become disillusioned with his waking life. No
one appreciates his musical talents, his friends regard him as a fool, and the noise of
daily hustle and bustles prevents him from writing his grand opera. One day,
on falling asleep, he has a fantastic dream. He is another era, where he is loved
by women, and where his musical genius is universally recognised. He has a similar
dream the next time he sleeps, and then again. No wonder that Claude begins to prefer
his dream life to his real life. Unfortunately, the dreams soon begin to transform
into a nightmare...
Already renowned for his acutely surreal and optimistic view of life, director René
Clair surpassed himself with this outlandish romantic fantasy. As French matinee
idol Gérard Philipe is propelled through history and cardboard Freudian dreamscapes,
into the arms of such beauties as Martine Carol and Gina Lollobrigida, Clair appears to
have all but lost his tenuous grip on reality (the scene with the dinosaur confirms it)
- but who cares? This is a film which, like Clair's earlier comic masterpieces,
is intended to distract and entertain, and it does that marvellously and unashamedly.
The special effects may not be up to the standard of, say, I
married a witch
, but the film is so deliciously off-the-wall and frantically paced
that such defects are barely noticed. Clair attempts to use the musical form for
part of the film, but somewhat half-heartedly, and this is perhaps the film's main disappointment.
As a full-blooded musical, Les Belles de nuit
may have been a much greater film,
possibly allowing Clair to regain the esteem he enjoyed in earlier decades.
Also, it would have been better if the dream scenes had been filmed in colour, to emphasise
the difference between Claude's drab physical life and his much more vibrant dream life
- although budgetary constraints would probably have ruled out this as a realistic possibility.
As a camp, fantastic romp where anything - literally anything - is possible, the film
may not be Clair's most sophisticated film, but it is still immensely enjoyable - thanks
mainly to Gérard Philipe's tirelessly spirited performance and some very funny
set-pieces (notably the concerto à la street noise
scene and the "near-vasectomy"
farce sequence involving a frighteningly large pair of scissors). Mad,
totally mad, but, like most of Clair's films, strangely satisfying.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.