Saturday, June 17, 2006


An early Robert Bresson film, quite unlike anything else of his that I've seen (DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST, LANCELOT OF THE LAKE). It's a brittle, dark story of romance and revenge that for the most part seems quite contemporary, with a feel of something like DANGEROUS LIASONS. When rich Helene (Maria Casares) hints to her long-time lover Jean (Paul Bernard) that she has gotten bored with their relationship, she is shocked when he says that he has too, and suggests that they part, at least temporarily. Helene, furious, arranges for Jean to get interested in showgirl Agnes (Elina Labourdette), an old acquaintance from the country who has turned to an unsavory lifestyle (dancing for groups of men in her room, and worse, I'm sure!) to keep herself and her mother afloat. Helene arranges for Agnes and her mother to be secluded in a small and drab apartment (I assume so she will not be tempted back to her old profession) and then proceeds to engineer a meeting with Jean, pushing the two together by seeming to be keeping them apart. Jean is unaware of Agnes' background and the two go through a tentative courtship until he becomes obsessed with her and she finally agrees to marry him. At the wedding party, Helene strikes the final blow by telling Jean that Agnes is a whore. He is shocked, Agnes faints, and Helene drives away in triumph, but a fairly unrealistic "happy" ending which feels like it was tacked on drains the story of some of its power. Nevertheless, this is one you shouldn't miss, and the main reason is the performance of Maria Caseres, who is both icy cold and red hot as the vengeful woman on a mission to destroy two lives (three if you count Agnes's mother). The movie's look is stark and dark, though not really in a film noir fashion, although I can imagine this being done as a Hollywood melodrama in the same era with Joan Crawford tossing Zachary Scott to some slutty supporting starlet (Martha Vickers in THE BIG SLEEP, perhaps?). The only problem here is that what we see of Agnes's shady past consists mostly of vigorous dancing, and after she is "saved" by Helene, she reverts to some rural virgin type, so we have to fill in the gaps (as in a Hollywood movie of the same era) to figure out why she is so ashamed of herself. There's a scene in which Agnes dances around the small apartment like Ann Miller in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU which I guess is supposed to make us think that she is missing her chorus girl/hooker days, but it's an odd scene anyway. Otherwise, I highly recommend this. [DVD]

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