Un Carnet de Bal (1937) is an episodically structured trip through a widow’s past and directed by Julien Duvivier (Pépé le Moko, 1937). While recovering from her husband’s death, Christine (Marie Bell) reminisces about her youth. She recalls her first ballroom dance when she was 16 and the diverse group of suitors who once declared their love to her, all of whom she rejected. To see what alternate path her life might have taken, she decides to visit all the men on her dance card from that night. They include a criminal night club owner, a depressive priest, a one-eyed alcoholic, a magician barber and a dead man who haunts his mother’s addled brain. These encounters range from comic to tragic, but none of these suitors live up to her memory of them, all dissipating in the face of reality. Duvivier and his cinematographers Philippe Agostini, Michel Kelber and Pierre Levent twirl the camera around a void of youth she can never recapture. Christine yearns so intensely to return to the night of that dance that Duvivier shows shadows dancing on the wall of her bedroom. But they turn out to be nothing but phantoms. A smash hit upon its release in France, it caused MGM executive Louis B. Mayer to offer Duvivier a contract to come to Hollywood, and it was logical that his English-language debut would be the musically-minded The Great Waltz (1938).
By R. Emmet Sweeney