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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Friday, September 21, 2012
8:55 p.m. Le plaisir
Max Ophuls (France, 1952)

(Pleasure). In Le plaisir, the pleasure of Max Ophuls’s cinema is laid out in what amounts to a tour de force of his style, the circling omniscience of his camera as it describes a narrative. Three de Maupassant stories strung together tell a bittersweet truth—that pleasure and happiness are two different things. “The Mask” is a short yet affecting vignette about a man who dances his way through old age, preserving the past behind a featureless visage. “The Model” tells of the making of a couple—and the unmaking of an artist’s power over his image. “The House of Mme. Tellier” evokes the Impressionists in telling of a Normandy town whose male population is robbed of its ritual pleasure when the local madam takes all her girls to the country for her niece’s communion. There, without sentiment or condescension, we witness the prostitutes’ epiphany. Gaby Morlay, Simone Simon, Jean Gabin, and Danielle Darrieux all defy their star quality to merely perform beautifully.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Ophuls, Jacques Natanson, from three stories by Guy de Maupassant. Photographed by Christian Matras, Philippe Agostini. With Gaby Morlay, Simone Simon, Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux. (95 mins, In French with English subtitles and English, B&W, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)