Robert Bresson, self-flagellating French auteur, patron saint of cinematic denial, went outlier in his second film, wilting under the spell of Diderot as adapted by Jean Cocteau. (Bresson’s debut pic, LES ANGES DU PÉCHÉ/’43, far more in keeping with his ever-increasing severity.) The story, reminiscent of the oft-filmed LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, finds a pair of bored lovers ready to move on, but in graceful friendship. Then true passion spoils the game when the man finds real love with a young dancer, unaware he’s being set up by his former lover for the ultimate fall . . . inappropriate marriage. There’s a sensuous line to everything about this film, even in technique; Bresson going all ‘culinary,’ in the Brechtian sense. Check out that fancy vertical tracking shot as the former lovers argue while he rides down the apartment elevator and she follows via the encircling staircase. (Not that Bresson doesn’t hold such technical mastery in reserve in his later work. It’s always there, just rarely displayed in such a pleasurably showy manner, sans hairshirt.) Using professional actors in all the roles (for the last time?), Bresson (or was it Cocteau’s manner of putting everything in ‘quotation marks,’ even in casting?) gets fabulous perfs all ‘round, particularly from Maria Casares as the sadistically vengeful former lover. Best known as the dreary unloved wife in LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/’45, she's much better as perp than victim.
DOUBLE-BILL: Vittorio De Sica runs similar story elements in the last episode of L’ORO DI NAPOLI/’54, but with marriage used for masochistic rather than sadistic purposes. Try to find the uncut version (6 stories/138") which includes the remarkable funeral sequence; charming, funny, heartbreaking, stunningly realized in long elegantly designed crane shots that De Sica must have picked up working for Max Ophüls on EARRING OF MADAME D . . . /’53.