Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Forgotten VHS #6- Bresson's "Une Femme Douce"

From the harrowing, elliptical opening sequence depicting the suicide of a stunningly beautiful young girl, Robert Bresson’s first color film, 1969’s Une Femme Douce, is an astounding example of the disciplined simplicity signifying Bresson’s undoubtedly unique cinematic signature. In the film, a young girl, named Elle (Dominique Sanda), is wooed by Luc (Guy Frangin), a greedy, materialistic pawnbroker, eventually marrying him. Their personalities clash, as foreshadowed by Luc’s handling of a gold crucifix necklace, which he regards merely a precious metal, but which Elle holds in higher esteem for its metaphysical significance. In this fantastically Bressonian scene, Luc begins his domineering, oppressive reign over Elle, disregarding her strong feelings about the crucifix in favor of his own interests. Elle’s suicide, which begins the film, is brought forth as a result of her severe depression while in the relationship and the film is essentially told by her grieving husband as he details his past with Elle to their maid, played by Jeanne Lobre.

The first of two Dostoevsky adaptations undertaken by Bresson during his color period (the other being Four Nights of A Dreamer (1971), adapted from the short story “White Nights”), Une Femme Douce contains many fascinating elements that are quite idiosyncratic when placed alongside the rest of Bresson’s oeuvre, particularly a fascinating play-within-a-film scene in which a terribly-acted performance of “Hamlet” is viewed by Elle and Luc. The performance drips with campy artifice and sensationalized melodrama and serves as a slyly-placed criticism of the theatrical acting style that Bresson famously loathed and sought to deconstruct with his highly original technique of using amateur “models” in his films rather than professional actors. Having seen it only once, on loan from Jeremy over at Moon in the Gutter, my thirst for this sadly overlooked Bresson masterpiece is still not quenched and I hope to acquire a copy of the VHS myself, which sells for about $35 on eBay and the Amazon Marketplace. A great companion to another Bresson Forgotten VHS, The Devil, Probably (1977), this beautiful film would be excellent as part of a Forgotten VHS double feature.

by Brandon Colvin


Nostalgia Kinky said...

Great stuff Brandon...This is one of my favorites from the sixties so I am glad you decided to highlight it here.
It would be nice if New Yorker would stop dragging their asses and get this out on DVD...

James Hansen said...

New Yorker is constantly awful. They ruin everything! They are sitting on so many great titles, yet doing nothing with them. Makes me very angry. I'll see if the Columbia library has this and try and give it a look...it's my best resource for all of these titles that you guys send in.

Anonymous said...

Brandon, "Une femme douce" is a great film. I love the use of a film-within-a-film, and also the play-within-a-film.