Furious at the relief of her lover, Jean, when she threatens to terminate their relationship, wealthy Parisian socialite Hélène wreaks her revenge by luring him into a romance with Agnès, a cabaret performer driven to prostitution to support her impoveris
Robert Bresson always found scriptwriting the hardest part of the film-making process. But this adaptation of a chapter in Jacques le Fataliste, a picaresque novel by the 18th-century philosophe Denis Didertot, proved to be the last time that he accepted assistance in preparing a scenario. Indeed, Bresson would also henceforth avoid professional performers and studio artifice. But, notwithstanding Jean Cocteau's formal if abrasive dialogue, Philippe Agostini's evocative monochrome photography and Maria Casarès's seductive display of femme fatality, this noirish melodrama is still very much a Bresson film.
It's certainly his worldliest work and the most self-consciously stylised. But wartime restrictions meant that Bresson had no option but to shoot in a Parisian studio rather than its streets and parks. Indeed, he was lucky to even finish the film, as electricity shortages meant that the production was nearly abandoned as it dragged on from May 1944 to February 1945.
Yet, by being able to exercise full control over his visuals, Bresson created a brooding atmosphere that enhanced the cool elegance and relishable cruelty of Casarès's performance, which complemented her turn in Marcel Carné's near-contemporary Les Enfants du Paradis, in which she again stands in the way of true love by stealing Jean-Louis Barrault from Arletty.
Both films were intended to be rallying cries to the occupied nation (with Jean-Luc Godard later declaring Les Dames to be `the only film of the French Resistance'). But audiences preferred Carné's period ebullience and rebelled against Bresson's austere visuals (which he later disowned as excessively theatrical) and sombre story, even though it actually ended on an optimistic note, for by refusing to allow Hélène's wedding day declaration that he had married a slut to sully the purity of his love, Jean destroys the only power she has over him and, thus, he and the nobly valorous Agnès are now as free as France.
Time has not been entirely kind to this early work from French master Bresson. But an interesting plot is brought to life with some great cinematography.