Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson,1945)
The always excellent film programming at the Cineclub/Film Society afforded a chance to check out another Bresson film, one that I didn’t get a chance to see at the Metrograph’s series. Bresson’s second film, the last one he did with an entire cast of professionals (in other words, the last one before he became that revered filmmaker we all know), is a more familiar French melodrama (and therefore a lesser Bresson effort, though still worthwhile) in the tradition of the oft-adapted-to-film French novel Dangerous Liaisons, dealing as it does with the cruel machinations and devious sexual games of the petty rich, as we watch the wealthy Madame Helene get her revenge on her straying lover by tricking him into the social embarrassment of unwittingly marrying a prostitute (though it takes some close inspection and recognition of the times the film was made to understand that that very hot dancer girl is actually a prostitute).
With dialogue by Monsieur wild bohemian Jean Cocteau, it’s definitely one of Bresson’s more showy efforts, which is interesting to see. It plays out engagingly and professional enough to make it that much more clear that Bresson’s later (truly brilliant) techniques (including untraditional, slightly off editing and camera positioning, as well as muted performances from non-professionals) were clearly not the mistakes of a neophyte filmmaker (as Les Dames shows, he was more than capable of delivering a traditional narrative) but rather deliberate choices made by a visionary filmmaker capable of challenging the normal conventions of commercial cinema in order to elicit more profound responses.