Three stories about pleasure. The first one is about a man hiding his age behind a mask to keep going to balls and fancying women, pleasure and youth. Then comes the long tale of Julia Tellier (Madeleine Renaud) taking her girls (whores) to the country for attending her niece's communion, pleasure and purity. And lastly, Jean (Daniel Gélin) the painter falling in love with his model, pleasure and death.Written by
Three tales from Guy de Maupassant are presented: The Mask, The Tellier House, and The Model, all of which were published in 'The Necklace and Other Tales' in 2003, and are probably in many other such collections of his short stories. The film adaptation is beautifully shot, includes some fine star power (Simone Simon, Jean Gabin, and Danielle Darrieux), and for the most part faithful to the stories, though there is some unfortunate softening. I have to say, the selection is not the greatest, as the first and last stories are just average works, and they're also both less than eight pages long. Even for an author who is known for being a master of brevity, the translation to the screen for the bookends of this set feels unsatisfyingly not well fleshed out (and the middle story ends up taking about 60 of the overall 97 minutes).
Ostensibly the three were selected to match a theme, which is the pursuit of pleasure. We do see that in these vignettes, and most notably, we see this pursuit ending in being denied. One man wears a mask when he gets older so he can go out dancing with the young girls (but collapses), others brawl because a bordello is closed on a Saturday night, and another desperately tries to get near one of the prostitutes that come out to see his daughter get her first communion. The foibles of men are on full display, and it's all a little pathetic. Perhaps this is nowhere more true than in getting married for reasons that don't relate to temperament or harmony, and suffering a lifetime of coldness as a result, which is the subject of the last tale.
Maupassant was the ultimate realist, not flinching from writing what life and love were really like, and the tone of the film is thus generally consistent with his work. Unfortunately in that middle effort, The Tellier House, there are some alterations. When the prostitutes are in the church in the story, they begin to cry, causing a wave of tears to ripple through the crowd. In the book, it's a sanctimonious and confused priest who believes that's it's a sign of God among them, but Maupassant is clearly making the situation absurd - both for the sentimental weeping and this reaction. In the film, it's the narrator - meant to be Maupassant himself - who draws the divine inference. It throws the tone of the scene off, is noticeably inconsistent with the rest of the story, and is certainly not in line with Maupassant's realism. Excised also is the bawdy song 'Granny,' that Rosa sings in the story, about an elderly lady remembering her past lovers, ruing the loss of her shapely legs and bygone charms, and admitting that she would masturbate alone in bed at 15. Ok, maybe that's not surprising for a film from 1952, even one out of France not subject to the puritanical production Code.
If director Max Ophüls had nailed that middle story, or included a better selection (of which there are many possible options), I would have enjoyed the film more. As it was, though, it's a solid effort and worth watching.
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