Armand de la Verne is a soldier in the French cavalry in the late 1800s/early 1900s, and
he sees himself as something of a Don Juan, a man whom no woman can refuse. Whilst
stationed in a French provincial town, he offers a wager to his fellow soldiers that he
can seduce any woman who takes his fancy before they depart for their summer manoevures.
The woman he selects for this purpose is an attractive young milliner, Marie-Louise, who
has recently been divorced. However, the childish game soon turns into a tragic
romance when Armand and Marie-Louise fall hopelessly in love...
This is a fine tragicomic romantic film from arguably the most romantic of all the great
pre-WW2 French film directors, René Clair. It has the distinction of being
Clair's first film to be made in colour, and it unites two great acting legends of French
cinema - Michèle Morgan and Brigitte Bardot.
The direction is faultless. Every scene looks as if it has just popped out of a
19th century story book. The dance scenes - of which there is an abundance - are
exquisitely well choreographed and well photographed, and contribute greatly to the character
of the film. Clair's frequent use of sudden camera rotation to propel the viewer
from one scene to another (instead of the traditional cut) is unusual but gives the film
a fluid, more engaging feel, making it appear less like a stage play.
Above all, the film achieves an emotional impact because Clair uses his actors to the
greatest effect - particularly the incomparable Michèle Morgan. If there
is one actress who is capable of capturing and expressing the pain of a doomed love it
has to be this great lady of French cinema. Next to her, Brigitte Bardot is but
a mere chaffinch - albeit a pretty and lively one. Gérard Philipe is also
impressive, but by now irredeemably typecast as the inveterate womaniser (he plays a virtually
identical rôle in Vadim's 1959 film, Les liaisons dangereuses
The seriousness of the love affair between Armand and Marie-Louise is brilliantly played
off against the lighter amorous fling acted out by Yves Robert (later to become a distinguished
director) and Brigitte Bardot (who needs no introduction).
Few films have managed to balance the comic and tragic elements so well, and this serves
merely to confirm the talent and skill of a René Clair, one of the greatest and
most intuitive of the great French film directors.
© 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/romance films of the 1950s from France that you may be interested in are: Marc Allégret's L'Amant de lady Chatterley
Claude Autant-Lara's En cas de malheur
Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons dangereuses
Jacques Becker's Montparnasse 19
Claude Autant-Lara's Le Rouge et le noir