LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Maria Casares, Paul Bernard, Elina Labourdette, Lucienne Bogaert, Jean
Director: Robert Bresson
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: Stills Gallery
Length: 85 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2003
don’t seem to understand where a woman’s scorn can lead.”
Dames du Bois de Boulogne, in addition to being quite a mouthful to say, is a rather bizarre French
melodrama about love and revenge whereby a woman gets even with the man who
spurns her by tricking him into marrying…ready for this?…a dancer.
think that pretty well sums it up, but I’ll go into more detail:
Helene (Casares) is an aristocrat who loves Jean (Bernard), another
aristocrat, but he has since grown weary of the relationship.
Maintaining a posture of friendship but secretly angry and hurt, she uses
her position over a couple of lower class women in order to exact revenge.
They are Agnes (Labourdette) and her mother (Bogaert), both living a life
of poverty and more recently, social disgrace because Agnes, who once had her
eye on the theatre, has been reduced to (gasp!) a cabaret dancer in order to try
and make ends meet.
no money or reputation, they take Helene up on her offer to move them to a new
apartment away from the city where they can start their lives anew…the catch
is, in order to escape Agnes’ reputation as a (gasp!) cabaret dancer, they can
make no appointments nor have guests over for a few years…I suppose until the
proverbial stench clears.
Helene arranges a “chance” meeting for the women with Jean, who falls
instantly in love with Agnes, while Agnes, according to her mother’s wishes
and their arrangement with Helene, refuses to see or meet with him.
And the lovelorn but oblique Jean foolishly seeks romantic counsel from
Helene, who’s secretly putting the pieces of her vengeance together.
true love conquers all, and Agnes marries Jean in a big, beautiful ceremony,
only to have Helene drop the bomb on Jean, telling him he’s married a (gasp!)
cabaret dancer. The angry Jean
spurns his new bride, only to have her collapse and nearly die from her shame,
only for the film to weakly hint at a possible new beginning for the two of
it romantic? I didn’t think so,
either…in fact, I found the whole premise and execution of the story to be
bluntly absurd. It must be a
cultural thing, because I couldn’t buy into it at all.
At the least, I was asking questions like, wasn’t Helene going to an
awful lot of trouble in setting up this elaborate scheme that could have all
fallen apart had Jean not given Agnes a second look?
guess it must be one of those class system things. Personally, if I had the good luck to marry someone as sweet
and lovely as Agnes, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Even if she was a (gasp!) cabaret dancer.
interesting about the characters is trying to determine their decency.
Helene is far too good at false fronts, keeping them up until the bitter
end. Jean has no dishonesty, but
his density makes that more of a liability than an asset (come on, guys, never
ask the woman you dumped for advice about the woman you’re currently trying to
woo!). And poor Agnes is forced to
wear her fake identity by both…Helene, who is secretly scheming to use her,
and Jean, who actually refuses to read the revealing letter she writes him that
would have saved a lot of heartache.
don’t consider the film a total loss. At
85 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the performances are good for
what the actors had to work with. Francois
Truffaut considers Robert Bresson one of the best French directors ever…I
haven’t seen any of his other works, but Les Dames didn’t exactly
pique my curiosity. Other
directors, most notably Douglas Sirk, have turned out wonderfully crafted
pictures using tripe melodrama as a starting point. This film just didn’t seem to have much style to it, focusing instead on telling its story when the
story couldn’t possibly be the strong point.
still not completely sure what the story was driving at.
Was it a romance? A tragedy? A
cautionary tale? Maybe the latter.
Guys, whatever you do, don’t be afraid to ask your girlfriend what she
does for a living, or you might end up marrying a (gasp!) cabaret dancer.
on second thought, that would sound kind of crappy as an Aesop moral.
full frame presentation is fairly standard faire for a film from the 40s.
There are some noticeable aging affects on the print, with a few spots,
specks and scratches from time to time, but no worse than you might expect.
The black and white photography is well rendered…perhaps a tad soft for
artistic purposes, as certain sequences seem more dreamlike than real.
Not a wasted effort, but perhaps a bit off from Criterion’s normal
bit substandard in this department, even for an older mono track.
The first reel is marred by a constant scratch…scratch…scratch sound
that gives contemplative scenes an unnatural sense of rhythm, but fortunately,
it passes 15 minutes or so into the film. Though
dialogue isn’t an issue (unless you speak French), there is some noticeable
background hiss all the way through the film.
A little noise reduction might have gone a long way here.
is a stills gallery of posters and behind the scenes photo included.