Wednesday 19 August 2015

The Duvivier Dossier (6) - La Femme et Le Pantin - A first encounter

Foyer & Box office, Padua Theatre, Brunswick
The second Brigitte Bardot movie I saw, once again in a packed house at the glorious art deco 2000+ seats and now sadly demolished Brunswick Padua, was La Femme et Le Pantin (France/Spain, 1959).  I knew nothing about Julien Duvivier, or any other directors except for Alfred Hitchcock and Cecil B De Mille, nor Pierre Louys, nor Josef von Sternberg. I went to see a Bardot movie. If you want a sample of what was on offer you can go to Youtube One  or if you want to see a rather good Dyaliscope copy you can go Youtube Two . Unfortunately neither has subtitles. 

At this point in her career, Bardot had just about perfected her act as the teasing, tempting nymphette. She frequently promised much but delivered little. A specialty in Bardot movies was her relationship with older blokes. Older men fell for her, threw themselves at her, made fools of themselves doing it. A lot of older blokes who went to see her movies understood all that intuitively.  

What do I remember of it now? The feral glamour of Bardot - the pouts, the
tantalising costumes showing off her breasts. Nothing much else, just pretty much what you took from most Bardot movies of the time. She was an old-fashioned star making old-fashioned spicy 'French' movies and had little to do with the New Wave film-makers making all the news. Her films however made all the money. (I know she did Godard's Le Mepris (1963), one of the greatest films by the new generation and she did a small thing for Louis Malle in Spirits of the Dead (1968but she worked mostly with the directors who were the backbone of commercial film-making. Duvivier was a leader of them.

It was around that time that Truffaut gave an interview in which he said the only decent old generation directors in France were Ophuls, Cocteau, Tati, Renoir and Becker. Duvivier was consigned to a scrap heap of worthlessness and I have to say many of us dismissed his work for a long time thereafter. Not without good reason. It was impossible to see his early films and most of his fifties and sixties films were phony - made in studio attempts to keep up with the street scene of NewWave subjects. More later about all that.

Now I assume that Truffaut was talking about current outputs. He wasn't thinking about Duvivier or Carne or others' work in the 30s, but rather of the generally tawdry films they were making in the 50s. In the piece here by Sam Rohdie which I mentioned on the blog it appears that Truffaut, like just about every other critic, did admire Duvivier's 50s masterpiece Voici Le Temps des Assassins (1956) for one or maybe for all. Certainly nobody has any residual love for La Femme et le Pantin. If you want to see a movie of Pierre Louys seminal book about an old/older man falling for a gloriously tempting young woman you need to go to von Sternberg's Devil is a Woman (1935 with Marlene Dietrich or to Luis Bunuel's final masterpiece That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) which employs the glorious Carole Bouquet and the even more desirable Angela Molina interchangeably in the part. Before von Sternberg there were two other adaptations. In 1920 Frank Lloyd made The Woman and the Puppet  and in 1928 Jacques de Baroncelli made La Femme et le Pantin. Now you know.

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