Le plaisir (1952)

26 05 2010

This is pretty much more of the same from Max Ophuls, but for whatever reason (which I’ll try to get into with this review) I was completely overwhelmed by this whereas my reactions to La Ronde and The Earrings of Madame De were only lukewarm. I’d like to think some of it has to do with the stories being based on the work of Guy de Maupassant who is responsible for the story in Renoir’s amazing A Day in the Country as well as Ford’s Stagecoach. To call the man’s writing credits impressive would be an understatement but still, his contributions to the world of film seemed to be under-appreciated.

Much like La Ronde, Ophuls is juggling multiple stories here. Only three this time and his way of transitioning is much less elaborate and not nearly as smooth, but the content of the stories themselves is far more interesting to me. It probably helps to have two of the greatest performers of the time period featured in some. Throw Jean Gabin in anything from the early thirties to the late fifties and he’s almost a lock to improve the writing. Simone Simon, if only for her unorthodox beauty, is a thrill to watch in anything and her performance here is absolutely heartbreaking.

I suppose Gabin is the better performer here, but Simon’s story is the one that takes the cake. It’s shorter, perhaps even the shortest of the three, but its short length only contributes to that vague beauty that alludes to “poetic” – it’s the sort of opacity that makes the work of some of my favorite directors – perhaps most notably, Hiroshi Shimizu, so memorable. The characters here aren’t rich, detailed, or deeply layered. They’re simplistic and lacking in description but again, there’s something so fascinating about such a setup.

It’s hard to describe how the last story here gets to me and why it cuts so deeply since it exists somewhere nowhere close to my real life experience. Basically, it’s an artist and his model falling in and out of love. It might be the virtuoso camera work of Ophuls (which is absolutely jaw-dropping here) but it might also be that exaggerated tragic tone that I’ve come to expect from Frank Borzage. Of course, Borzage lingers (and thus, I suppose, “meditates”) on his couples for a longer period, but within a short twenty minutes or so, Ophuls is able to capture the same heart-swelling tone within a more frantic and chaotic frame. These adjectives all sound like a verbose writer but to get an idea of what I mean just look at the final sequence in which Simon threatens to kill herself and her ex doesn’t even flinch. It begins with a simplistic static shot but when the action is initiated, it seamlessly turns into a stylistic point of view shot. It’s a perfect example of Ophuls’ cinematic talent – being a mastermind behind the camera but trying to be quiet about it.

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