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Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

Saturday, October 13, 2012
8:15 p.m. Les grandes manoeuvres
René Clair (France, 1955)

(a.k.a. Summer Maneuvers). René Clair’s first color film is set in a provincial garrison just before World War I. Gérard Philipe plays a cavalry officer and self-styled Don Juan who wagers that he can seduce any woman in town, chosen at random. Divorcee Michèle Morgan wins the lottery and eventually the officer’s heart, but the rules of the game virtually guarantee that both of them will lose. What begins as lightly ironic comedy—complete with a kittenish Brigitte Bardot—shades into romantic tragedy, the color scheme subtly shifting from pale to dark while the characters try to calibrate the distinctions between seduction and love, passion and trust. As Bob Baker wrote in Time Out, “Hard to resist imagining what Max Ophuls might have made of it.”

• Written by Clair, Jérôme Geronimi, Jean Marsan. With Michèle Morgan, Gérard Philipe, Jean Desailly, Brigitte Bardot. (106 mins, In French with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Institut Français, permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)