Saturday, August 24, 2013

Le Plaisir, followed by a lecture on Maupassant on the screen by Satu Kyösola

Le Plaisir. La Maison Tellier: la première communion. Paulette Dubost as Madame Fernande. The most moving religious scene in the history of the cinema.

Lemmenunelma / Kärlekens fröjder [the Swedish title on screen]. FR 1952. PC: Compagnie Commerciale Française Cinématographique (CCFC) / Stera Films. P: M. Kieffer – Le Modèle: Édouard Harispuru – Ben Barkay, Max Ophüls (n.c.). D: Max Ophüls [thus spelt in the credit sequence]. SC: Max Ophüls, Jacques Natanson – dialogue: Jacques Natanson – based on three short stories, Le Masque (1889), La Maison Tellier (1881), and Le Modéle (1883), by Guy de Maupassant. DP: Christian Matras – Le Modèle: Philippe Agostini. PD: Jean D'Eaubonne, assistant PD: Jacques Guth. Set dec: Robert Christidès. Cost: Georges Annenkov. Makeup: Carmen Brel, Roger Chanteau. Hair: Jules Chanteau, Simone Knapp. M: Joe Hayos (Joe Hajos), Maurice Yvain – themes of Jacques Offenbach and W. A. Mozart – "Plus près de Toi, mon Dieu" ("Nearer, My God, to Thee", 1841, comp. Lowell Mason, lyrics Sarah Flower Adams). The theme waltz: "Ma grand'mère" (P.–J. de Béranger, ca 1820, lyrics translated into Finnish as "Yö" by Lauri Viljanen). S: Pierre-Louis Calvet, Jean Rieul. ED: Léonide Azar.
    LE MASQUE: Claude Dauphin (le docteur), Janine Vienot (la poule du docteur), Jean Galland (Ambroise, "the mask"), Gaby Morlay (sa femme Denise).
    LA MAISON TELLIER: Madeleine Renaud (Madame Tellier), Danielle Darrieux (Madame Rosa), Ginette Leclerc (Madame Flora dite Balançoire), Mila Parély (Madame Raphaële), Paulette Dubost (Madame Fernande), Mathilde Casadesus (Madame Louise dite Cocotte), Pierre Brasseur (Julien Ledentu, le commis-voyageur), Jean Gabin (Joseph Rivet), Amédée (Frédéric, le serveur).
     LE MODELE: Daniel Gélin (Jean, le peintre), Simone Simon (Joséphine, le modèle).
    Loc: Normandie: Calvados (Clécy, Trouville) – les environs de Pontécoulant – la scène de la communion est filmée autour de l'église de La Chapelle-Engerbold (Calvados) et à Trouville-sur-mer. Studios: Franstudio (Joinville-le-pont, Val-de-Marne), Studios Éclair (Épinay-sur-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis), Studios de Boulogne-Billancourt/SFP.
     Helsinki premiere 14 Nov 1952 Ritz, released by Columbia Films – telecast 11.9.1976 Yle TV2, 17.6.1977 and 21.7.1989 Yle TV1 – VET 36666 – K16 – 2650 m / 97 min.
     A SFI Filmarkivet print with Swedish subtitles by Gunnar Tannefors and e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio (incorporating the Finnish translation of Lauri Viljanen to the theme waltz lyrics) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (The Short Story and the Cinema), 24 Aug 2013

"Le bonheur n'est pas gai."

The old bon vivant who dons the mask of a youngster at the dance palace. The maison close whose ladies take a vacation to participate in the confirmation of the brothel-keeper's niece. The model who falls fatally for an artist.

A masterpiece which keeps growing in stature at each viewing. I saw it first as a schoolboy, only being able to admire the virtuosity of the mise-en-scène at the time. But Le Plaisir is also a work of bitter wisdom.

LE MASQUE: The delusion of "eternal youth" is always topical, today taking place with facelifts and Viagra. LA MAISON TELLIER: the experience of the sublime in unusual circumstances; close to the teaching of Jesus, however. LE MODELE: mistaking desire for love can be fatal.

Max Ophuls rises to the level of Guy de Maupassant. These are stories told with verve, gusto, and refinement. There is a stinging bite of irony in them. But the basic undercurrent is that of tenderness.

The stories seem to witness that carnal desire leads us astray. Sex is a good servant and a bad master.

The greatest tenderness is evident in the Tellier ladies' pilgrimage to the countryside. The feelings of warmth and generosity are genuine. The pastoral idyll is profound. At night the theme waltz is sung. After that there is an "infinite, almost holy silence", "a silence that reaches to the stars". "Le silence me casse les oreilles". The silence is so overwhelming that the women cannot sleep. The contrast between the holy and the ostensibly profane is striking.

The actual première communion sequence at the church is the climax of the story and the entire film, and one of the most unforgettable holy scenes in the history of the cinema. Something higher touches the congregation. Something holy is present. Everybody cries. - My guess is that everybody in Cinema Orion cried, as well. - This feeling befits my Durkheimian approach to religion.

Guy de Maupassant's words have been incorporated into the film with the device of Jean Servais as the author-narrator. Servais also plays the friend of Jean and Joséphine in the final, the most tragic, story. We can find in him Maupassant's alter ego appearing in his own story. It is a wise and moving solution.

Satu Kyösola gave a fine lecture on Maupassant and the cinema, inspired by Jean-Pierre Berthomé's study Le Plaisir (1997). She took her time with wide-ranging contextualization. The lecture got more focused towards the end, and probably a lot had to be cut due to a lack of time. I look forward to being able to read her full version.

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