In Paris in 1887, Irène works as a governess to Douce, the grand-daughter of the dowager Countess de Bonafé. Douce believes she is in love with Fabien, the handsome manager of the estate. Ho... Read allIn Paris in 1887, Irène works as a governess to Douce, the grand-daughter of the dowager Countess de Bonafé. Douce believes she is in love with Fabien, the handsome manager of the estate. However she cannot hope to marry him because of their class difference. Douce's widowed fath... Read allIn Paris in 1887, Irène works as a governess to Douce, the grand-daughter of the dowager Countess de Bonafé. Douce believes she is in love with Fabien, the handsome manager of the estate. However she cannot hope to marry him because of their class difference. Douce's widowed father, the Count de Bonafé, has a wooden leg, and is infatuated with Irène. Douce discovers t... Read all
The opening tracking shot of "Douce", across a miniature of Paris with an Eiffel Tower in construction, establishes a fin de siècle world in which new ideas are imposing themselves upon the old landscape. In the social order, too, there is evidence of change: Douce's father (Jean Debucourt) sees only good in his planned marriage to Irène (Madeleine Robinson) and in her elevation to his own social level. This elevation is depicted literally when he takes her for a ride in his newly installed lift, a symbol of his modernity in the stuffy gaslit townhouse. For him, love transcends class.
But the father's manner is too mild ("douce"). He has been wounded physically and psychologically, plagued by a sense of failure, hobbling on a wooden leg. The household is dominated by his mother the countess (Marguerite Moreno), a harridan whose starched black dresses represent her inflexible adherence to the old order and the sense of sin associated with transgression of social boundaries. As well as blocking her son's happiness, she is infusing her granddaughter Douce (Odette Joyeux) with her outdated orthodoxies, not realising that the thrill derived from breaking a taboo may become in itself a potent attraction for a modern, rebellious adolescent. The intransigence and cynicism of the crowlike old woman are the poison that saturates this house from the top down.
There's an angry polemic burning at the heart of the film, but on the surface, as in the title, all is soft and calm. "Douce" is one of the most elegant films ever made, each scene gliding smoothly into another as the characters move from room to room within the mansion. The screenplay is polished and literary, the performances intelligent and refined, the music perfectly integrated into the drama, the direction exquisitely choreographed with sumptuous camera movements to rival Ophüls. It's a drama of biting satire and of deep emotions deeply suppressed, registering only as a narrowing eyelid or a pursed lip.
And at the centre of the drama is the 17-year-old Douce herself, brilliantly played by Odette Joyeux - who was almost 30 at the time, and older than Madeleine Robinson who plays her governess. Douce is depicted on contemporary posters as a bird in a gilded cage, but her nature is more feline: playful, impulsive and by turns tender and cruel. She is experiencing love for the first time, and this makes her a vulnerable and ultimately a tragic character. As she sets out in the snow for her midnight assignation with Fabien (Roger Pigaut), her hooded cape reminds us of Little Red Riding-Hood about to meet the wolf.
"Douce" is not an anti-bourgeois film, as some have suggested. Truffaut famously remarked (in condemning films such as Autant-Lara's): "What is the value of an anti-bourgeois cinema made by the bourgeois for the bourgeois?" The countess is ridiculous and contemptible, but the servant classes, as depicted here, are little better: Irène is an opportunist, Fabien is a thief, and his haughty attitude suggests a kinship of temperament with the countess. Only the rare few such as Douce and her father, who are willing to throw aside social convention and follow their hearts, are portrayed with sympathy in this film. And that's the message of Autant-Lara the artist, not the politician.
- Dec 6, 2010