Cast & Crew
Hélène and Jean are lovers who have agreed to be totally honest with each another. Sensing that Jean no longer cares for her, Hélène feigns indifference, but to her dismay, Jean confirms her worst suspicions. To avenge herself, she introduces him to Agnès, whom Hélène has "rescued" from a sordid life as a cabaret dancer and call girl. Jean is instantly attracted to Agnès, but Hélène's plan demands marriage for completion. As the wedding day nears, Agnès tries to confess her past to Jean, but he will not listen. Hélène invites a collection of Agnès' former friends and clients to the wedding and then tells Jean of his bride's background. But Jean thwarts Hélène's triumph by forgiving Agnès and begging her to continue living with him.
Madame De Morlay
Herman G. Weinberg
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne -
Shot at the Studios Pathé-Cinéma in Paris for Les Film Raoul Ploquin production company, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne began filming in April 1944, shortly before the Allied invasion of France in June. Due to wartime hardships, the sets were sometimes so cold that the actors' breath is visible onscreen and scenes were often shot at night. The political upheaval and resulting war that came to the streets of Paris forced the film to stop production and did not resume for several months. Eventually, this interruption forced Bresson to resume filming without members of the original crew.
Despising theatric acting, the director's approach was to rehearse the actors speaking their lines over and over until he had stripped away all the emotion and potential for overacting. Still, Bresson had trouble with the mercurial Casares, who is best remembered as the long-suffering wife of Jean-Louis Barrault in her first film, Children of Paradise (1945). Casares had come from the stage, where she had earned a reputation for excellence, but as this was only her second film she was still prone to what Bresson considered overacting, forcing him to find a way to tone down her style. He later said, "To get courage, she used to drink a little glass of cognac before acting. When I chanced to discover this, I asked her to take a sedative instead, which she willingly did. Then things started to go better." Bresson had other issues as well; he was unhappy with Cocteau's dialogue and their relationship had become strained. He had to replace Alain Cuny, his original choice for the role of Jean, with Jean Marais and then replaced Marais with Paul Bernard.
Bresson was dissatisfied with Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne when the film was released in France on September 21, 1945, believing that allowing Cocteau to write the screenplay cost him the control he needed to create a better film. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne was the last Robert Bresson film that would be completely cast with professional actors. He preferred to work with non-professionals, whom he called "models," and trained them to act in an understated manner so that it would be the audience who would feel the emotion rather than the actors.
Bresson, Robert Bresson on Bresson: Interviews, 1943-1983
Cinematheque Ontario Robert Bresson
Dixon, Wheeler Cinema at the Margins
Ebert, Roger "Robert Bresson was Master of Understatement" The Chicago Sun-Times 23 Dec 99
Klinowski, Jacek and Garbicz, Adam Feature Cinema in the 20th Century: Volume One: 1913-1950: a Comprehensive Guide
Reader, Keith Robert Bresson
By Lorraine LoBianco
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne -
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Adapted for the screen by Bresson and Jean Cocteau from a novel by Diderot, Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne was considered a critical and commercial failure when it first opened in France in 1945. Part of this was due to the film's highly stylized characters and dialogue, which were deemed too absurd to be taken seriously by audiences of its era. Another factor was simply bad timing; post-World War II moviegoers wanted to be entertained and expected movies to reflect some form of emotional realism. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne simply failed to conform to these expectations. Yet, seen today, the film is a fascinating viewing experience, and a compelling dramatization of the famous saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Imagine a Joan Crawford forties melodrama but without the histrionics, rendered in a cold, dispassionate style.
The story is simple and bears some similarities to Les Liaisons dangereuses. Helene (Maria Casares), a wealthy Parisian woman, has become frustrated by her lover's lack of attention and tries to provoke the desired reaction from him by suggesting they break up. To her surprise, Jean (Paul Bernard) readily agrees and seems relieved to finally end their relationship. This is NOT what Helene had in mind but, disguising her true feelings of total rage, she happily agrees to remain Jean's friend. Almost immediately, she sets about plotting her lover's destruction through the reluctant participation of the financially destitute Madame Duquenoi (Lucienne Bogaert) and her daughter Agnes (Elina Labourdette). Helene begins grooming Agnes to be Jean's new lover, all the while arranging "chance meetings" between the couple in the hopes that a passionate relationship will bloom - and it does. What Jean doesn't learn - until it's too late - is the truth about his future bride's sordid background as a cabaret dancer and occasional prostitute.
Unlike most of the Criterion titles released on DVD, the Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne disk doesn't offer a lot of extra features. It does sport a stills gallery, new and improved English subtitles, and a new digital transfer, with restored image and sound. Even so, there's a very long and noticeable audio hiss throughout the opening of the film. Nevertheless, image quality is very good considering the production date of this early, rarely screened Bresson title. And the liner notes by Francois Truffaut and film scholar David Thomson are particularly illuminating. Thomson says it best when he writes: "...this is a movie in which one can feel the urge of melodrama to turn into abstraction. So, every time Bresson uses mood music (a very romantic score by Jean-Jacques Grunenwald), tracking shots and pans to open up that off-screen space he will be so famous for omitting, and every time he resorts to the conventions of terrific acting, you can feel him identifying line, form and self-denial within the scene...It's as if we were watching Picasso still working in the Blue period, but beginning to be possessed by Cubism....Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is a fascinating turning point, one on which you can hear a great artist's mind creaking - with alteration, but with discovery, too. It's a moment in which the necessity of doing less begins to be imperative."
For more information about Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, visit The Criterion Collection web site. To order Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, visit TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Opened in Paris in September 1945; running time: 90 min. Working title: Les dames de Port Royal. Also known as Ladies of the Park.