Monday, July 25, 2011

#183: Les dames du Bois de Boulogne

(Robert Bresson, 1945)

Les dames du Bois de Boulogne might be the most notable example of a movie made by a great director that is almost impossible to identify as that director's work. This is particularly true because Bresson - like most iconic directors - has such a distinct, if minimalist, style, and spent most of his career dwelling on similar themes and subjects.

Little of these touchstones is present in this early film in his catalog, a sort of Dangerous Liasons for modern French society which also calls to mind the later Ophuls masterpiece The Earrings of Madame De... This film doesn't quite reach classic status, but the richness of its cinematography and the swooning melodrama at its core are extremely appealing. The final climax - when a woman spurned finally reveals the truth to her former lover - is expertly crafted, as Paul Bernard pulls his car back and forth trying to free himself from the hell he has been placed in while the camera simply sits along for the ride. The viewer can actually feel Bresson taking charge at this moment, shedding the conventions that bound him earlier in the film (and keep the final scene a little too clean and unbelievable).

Perhaps the film's melodrama is a little too reliant upon an antiquated concept of female revenge - the film's emotional ties certainly tilt towards theatricality. But even if the movie is just a theme park ride instead of the pilgrimage of Bresson's later masterpieces, it's at least confirmation of an artist's developing hand and an extremely rewarding viewing for film lovers and melodrama aficionados alike.

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