Le plaisir (1952)


(director/writer: Max Ophuls; screenwriters: from three short stories by Guy de Maupassant/Jacques Natanson; cinematographers: Philippe Agostini (“Le Modèle”)/Christian Matras (“Le Masque” and “La Maison Tellier”); editor: Léonide Azar; music: Joe Hajos; cast: Claude Dauphin (Le docteur), Gaby Morlay (Denise), Madeleine Renaud (Julia Tellier), Mila Parely (Madame Raphaele), Danielle Darrieux (Madame Rosa), Pierre Brasseur (Julien Ledentu), Jean Gabin (Joseph Rivet), Jean Servais (L’ami de Jean/Narrator), Daniel Gelin (Jean), Simone Simon (Josephine), Amedee (Frederic), Jean Galland (Ambroise), Jocelyne Jany(Constance), Helena Manson (Marie Rivet); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Edouard Harispuru/M. Kieffer; Second Sight FilmsDVD PAL; 1952-France-in French with English subtitles)

This omnibus of three stories are all conventional ones told in a genteel conventional way, but the camerawork is sensational.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Max Ophuls’ (“La Ronde”/”The Earrings of Madame De …”/”Lola Montes”)second film in France after leaving Hollywood, where he resided during World War II. The noted stylistic filmmaker effectively adapts three stories by Maupassant.The theme about the quirks of human nature and vanity runs through the stories. In the film’s concluding line it’s said by the narrator that: “happiness is not a joyful thing.” Jean Servais is the narrator, acting as Maupassant and takes pleasure in telling us such cynical stories about love and passion.

The first story “Le Masque” is set in Paris at Le Palais de la Danse, where elderly retired married hairdresser (Jean Galland) wears a mask to appear young so he can dance with the pretty young girls and flirt with them and remember how he was a dashing lover during his youth. When he faints on the dance floor, a doctor (Claude Dauphin) at the ball treats him and takes him back to the house where he lives with his long-suffering stoical wife (Gaby Morlay).

The second story “La Maison Tellier” is the longest and is the main story. It tells of how a brothel without warning closes its doors Saturday night and the prominent guests in the small town feel lost without their house of pleasure. The madame (Madeleine Renaud) takes her jolly prostitutes to the Normandy countryside to attend the Communion of her niece (Jocelyne Jany), the daughter of Joseph Rivet (Jean Gabin), her lecherous carpenter brother. The whores get emotional about the church ceremony, and Joseph upsets sis by making a pass at Madame Rosa (Danielle Darrieux). It ends on the note that the only way Joseph will see Rosa again is as a client when he visits the brothel.

The third story “La Modele” has the struggling artist (Daniel Gelin) fall in love with his attractive model (Simone Simon), and after selling his first painting they live together in a new home but they can’t stop fighting as familiarity breeds contempt. The artist intends to leave the model to marry someone his family approves of, and she threatens suicide if he doesn’t reconsider and marry her. When he dares her to jump off the roof, she does. Miraculously she only breaks her legs and remains a wheelchair-bound cripple. Out of appreciation for the love she showed him by her daring suicide attempt, he marries her.

This omnibus of three stories are all conventional ones told in a genteel conventional way, but the camerawork is sensational. The work is elevated by Ophuls’ usual graceful way of filming and the fine acting by the ensemble cast. It’s interesting to note that Stanley Kubrick stated Le Plaisir to be his favorite film.