This is one of the most finely crafted films of cinema's short history. Period atmosphere, costumes, sets, indoor and outdoor photography, pacing and editing are all superb. The music by Georges Van Parys is poignantly nostalgic and at the same time entertaining and light. The biggest attraction of this film, though, is the wit of its script, which could rival any comedy of Shaw or Wilde or Colette, and top them all for sheer virtuosity in the art of depicting the many faces of love, and its delivery by one of film history's most finely cast troupe of comedians. `Les Grandes Manoeuvres' is ostensibly a Gérard Philipe vehicle, full of his inimitable monologues, which lets Michèle Morgan do what she does best: suffer coldly, remotely, nobly, silently and elegantly. It is peopled by actors the likes of which this planet has rarely seen brought together, namely Jacqueline Maillan and Lise Delamare as Jean Desailly's wicked, two-faced, possessive sisters who marry the feline elegance of beasts of prey with the evil but colourful personality of Walt Disney's Cinderella's wicked stepmother. It features some of the most beautiful women of the planet: Morgan, Bardot, Dany Carrel, Magali Noël. The men are also physically and mentally highly idealized. This film is rarely shown and therefore largely unappreciated. It is only available on DVD in a pristine transfer in French only on a Brigitte Bardot boxset from Quebec (imavision.com) comprising seven films of various worth ranging from this unqualified masterpiece to more lowly efforts to Fellini-Malle-Vadim's `Histoires extraordinaires'. This film is so good it is probably worth learning French to understand all its subtleties and absorb its unique charm. It makes all of René Clair's preceding efforts, even the most poetically imaginative like `Beauties of the Night', look like immature doodles or preliminary sketches.
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