LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE, (1945). In this black and white 86 minute classic of French cinema, admired director Robert Bresson follows the cruel machinations of rich and beautiful Parisian socialite Hélène (María Casares,Les Enfants Du Paradis), a femme fatale who decides to destroy her shallow former beau Jean (Paul Bernard) after he admits he has lost interest in her. She is fueled by vengeance as she orchestrates a remarkably expensive scheme to trick Jean into marrying a "cabaret dancer" (Elina Labourdette). The film is an updated but reasonably accurate adaptation of the story of Madame de La Pommeraye from 18th century French author Denis Diderot's novel JACQUES LE FATALISTE. Famed French author/filmmaker Jean Cocteau, (Beauty and The Beast (The Criterion Collection), 1946; Orpheus (Criterion Collection), 1949), contributed the film's lyrical dialog.
This is a classic love triangle, but Bresson, (A Man Escaped, Pickpocket (The Criterion Collection) ), who, early in his career, has not yet fully developed his minimal storytelling style, does show some minimalist touches in telling its story, increasing its impact. All four lead actors -and in his future work, Bresson was seldom to work with professional actors--deliver fully-inhabited performances. Moreover, the director does seem to have been largely un-minimalist in the film's making. Interiors are well-decorated and luxurious; the women's wardrobes are ample and elegant, attributed to well-known French designers Gres and Schiaparelli. Cinematography, by Philip Agostini (creator of the memorable looks of Essential Art House: Le Jour se Lève, and Rififi (The Criterion Collection)), is outstanding: the picture is visually beautiful. Soundtrack, which Bresson would rarely use later, is by Jean-Jacques Grunenwald. Perhaps most notably, Bresson has also given the film a more-or-less happy Hollywood ending: after the wedding Helene cannot resist telling Jean about his new wife's secret past. But this malicious exposure will be followed by more surprises.
LES DAMES is a brisk and beautiful treatment, by a greatly gifted director, of an old and interesting story. Worth seeing even if you're not particularly a Bressonian, if you've the tolerance for black and white and subtitles.