183 Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

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#1 Post by Martha » Wed Dec 01, 2004 9:26 pm

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne


This unique love story, based on a novelette by Denis Diderot and with dialogue written by Jean Cocteau, follows the maneuverings of a society lady as she connives to initiate a scandalous affair between her aristocratic ex-lover and a prostitute. With his second feature film, director Robert Bresson was already forging his singularly brilliant filmmaking technique as he created a moving study of the power of revenge and the strength of true love. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Robert Bresson's Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne.

Special Features

-New digital transfer, with restored image and sound
-Stills gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes photos
-Essays by François Truffaut and David Thomson
-New and improved English subtitle translation

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#2 Post by zedz » Mon Dec 20, 2004 8:58 pm

I finally got around to watching this disc the other night. It's a superb film, of course, and it's always surprising to see how Bresson's sternness enlivens and enriches what could in other hands be hopelessly sentimental. Cocteau's stylisation certainly helps in this respect.

The presentation is bare bones (a handful of not particularly enlightening publicity shots are the only extra), which is surprising given that this was the first title in the collection from such an important director. Given the film's status as one of the more singular intersections of various French filmmaking traditions of the forties and fifties, even text-based critical filmographies for Bresson, Cocteau and Casares would have been useful. Oh well, maybe they're saving their big Bresson documentaries for a to-die-for box set. . .

What prompted me to comment here is the pretty mediocre state of the image and sound on this release. I've seen the film on the big screen twice (once in particularly abysmal 16mm) and it's not been in great shape, so this may well be as good as it gets (the DVD is definitely supperior to the 35mm print I saw a few years ago), but does anybody know if there are better film elements in existence anywhere?

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#3 Post by bunuelian » Tue Feb 07, 2006 2:50 pm

If I recall correctly, this thread's previous incarnation included a long discussion of the print quality and the conclusion was that this was as good as CC could get its hands on. I do seem to remember someone saying they'd seen better, but I could be thinking about another film.

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#4 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:34 pm

Previous versions of this thread notwithstanding, I would really appreciate some thoughts and comments on this film.

As zedz points out, a number of great talents spanning at least two different generations of French film crossed paths in this production, and according to the booklet it was a film that was started, abandoned, and finished much later.

My experience with Bresson is not great. I have seen a few of his later films, which are obviously very different from this one in their aesthetic approach. And, yet, my great surprise in seeing this film was how much of the later Bresson is already visible here. As far as I could tell, the way the film singled itself out from the later works was mainly in the greater use of music, and, obviously in having very professional actors/actresses in front of the camera.

At first, I had a hard time seeing what the appeal of the story was to Bresson -- marital intrigue, sexual jealousy, etc. All this seemed very alien from Man Escaped or Diary of a Country Priest. Once it became clear that the central character of the story was Agnes, it made more sense, and I could see in her the archetype of Bresson's "heroes" in the other films.

For some reason, I also thought this was Bresson's very first film, but I of course found out that he had done Les Anges de Peches before this.
I am curious as to how that film compares to this and the later works.

So, those are a few notes quickly typed out by me. I hope others, more expert on Bresson, will take up the torch...

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#5 Post by david hare » Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:57 pm

Some quick thoughts only.

I realize there's been a lot of criticism of the Dames print but the Criterion transfer is by far the best I've ever seen, and it certainly captures the light and gray scale beautifully. Wasn't this another movie for which the original neg was destroyed in the Billancourt fire?

It's marvellous to see how well Cocteau's screenplays in this and Melville's les Enfants Terribles translate so readily into the identifiable work of completely different artists. I think both Melville's and Bresson's "styles" become apparent from the beginning (although Melville's earlier first picture le Silence de la Mer is quite different to Enfants in terms of rhtyhm and mood, if not mise en scene. It's been so long since Ive seen it I can't be more detailed.)

One aspect of les Dames constantly overlooked or ignored is the very clear gay text between Maria Casares and Elina Labourdette, certainly a relationship of sexual jealousy and desire based on power and control. While this aspect of the screenplay might be seen as pure Cocteau by some, I think Bresson embraces it completely into the movie's texture.

I havent seen les Anges du Peche for ages (I do have a very poor quality bootleg) but I was wildly impressed by it. Renee Faure plays the nun who keeps breaking out from the constraints of the convent into a sort of attempted spiritual transcendence. Even if the movie isn't as perfectly secure in form as later Bresson (including les Dames) it's extremely exciting to watch.

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