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Au Bonheur des Dames (1930)

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Ann Harding
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Au Bonheur des Dames (1930)

Postby Ann Harding » March 28th, 2008, 11:39 am

This is Julien Duvivier's last silent film. It just came out on DVD in France from Arte Video. I purchased it and I was not disappointed: this is a beautiful print of a great picture! :)
I should add that the film is encoded in NTSC, Region Free with English/German subs as well. Anybody in the US can watch it on their DVD player.

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The film's script is an adaptation of Emile Zola's novel. The title refers to the name of the department store: Au Bonheur des Dames (The Ladies' Paradise). Young Denise Baudu (Dita Parlo) arrives in Paris to work for her uncle who owns a small fabric shop. Alas, her uncle's business is crashing because an enormous department store just opened nearby. Desperate for a job, Denise becomes an employee at the department store. She discovers the petty managers, the jealousy between shop girls. The store's owner and creator, Octave Mouret (Pierre de Guingand) immediately spots her......
The film shortens quite bit Zola's novel and transposes it to the 20s rather than the XIXth century when the first ever department store opened in Paris. But, the film is an immense visual feast! :) The camera moves around the crowd, goes up in the air: it's so mobile, it's just mind-boggling!!! On top, we get Dita Parlo's marvellous performance as the young Denise. This young German actress made later many French films such as L'Atalante and La Grande Illusion; here, she is a fresh 20 years old, extremely well photographed by Armand Thirard. I found the actor playing Octave Mouret, Pierre de Guingand, less interesting and a bit wooden, but Dita just shines from beginning to end. Duvivier makes here another fabulous picture like his later talking masterpieces. 8)
The DVD contains a small presentation by Serge Bromberg, the head of Lobster Films who produced this DVD; a small documentary from 1930 about La Samaritaine, one of Paris' big department store -sadly closed now-; and a small doc about the recording of the new score. All of the supplements are subtitled in English.

A real treat for any silent movie lover! 8) the same editor has released another silent Duvivier: Poil de Carotte (1925). I'll certainly buy it soon. :)

Just a little aside: I was watching recently Kevin Brownlow's Cinema Europe and I was struck in the episode about France by the huge number of Zola adaptations produced in the 20s:
Henri Pouctal's Travail (1920)
André Antoine's La Terre (1921)
Jean Renoir's Nana (1926)
Jacques Feyder's Thérèse Raquin (1928)
Marcel L'herbier's L'argent (1928) (soon out on DVD in France!!!)
and Duvivier's Au Bonheur des Dames (1930)
It look as if directors found Zola's socially conscious novels extremely relevant in the troubled 20s......

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Postby charliechaplinfan » March 28th, 2008, 2:59 pm

I liked Dita Parlo in La Grande Illusion and L'Atalante.I'm glad you enjoyed it
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

feaito

Postby feaito » March 28th, 2008, 5:20 pm

This film sounds very interesting to me and its subjects are timeless in my opinion (especially pettiness and jealousy among co-workers).

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Postby Synnove » March 29th, 2008, 4:30 am

I remember Dita Parlo in La Grande Illusion. These images look intriguing. The 20's style for department stores is very special...

Thanks for the review, Christine!

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Postby Ann Harding » March 29th, 2008, 5:23 am

Synnove wrote:These images look intriguing. The 20's style for department stores is very special...

Actually, Hedvig, the film was shot inside les Galeries Lafayette. It's one of Paris' most interesting department store with a stained-glass cupola. The steel frame is by Gustave Eiffel. The building opened in 1912. Nowadays, it looks about the same as in film. :wink:

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Postby Synnove » March 29th, 2008, 9:51 am

I like the 10's style even better.

That is one place I must visit before I die.

feaito

Postby feaito » March 29th, 2008, 10:31 am

That's why the store looked familiar! The Galeries LaFayette are beautiful. I'm not sure but is their style Art Nouveau? I have only been once to Paris, but I have fond memories of my visit, especially from these Galeries and the Musée D'Orsay, beautiful buildings! Sadly, the Paris Opera was closed when I was there.

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Postby moira finnie » March 29th, 2008, 11:28 am

What a tantalizing description that you give of this film, Ann. It's appeal is only enhanced by knowing that Julien Duvivier was behind the camera. I've never seen a film of this man's that I didn't like since he seemed to have such skill in conveying human touches over narrative in all movies. Among my favorites would be the anthologies such as Flesh and Fantasy & Tales of Manhattan as well as his movies with the phenomenal Jean Gabin: La Bandera, Pépé le Moko, The Imposter, and Voici le temps des assassins.

Gee, I hope I get to see Au Bonheur des Dames (1930) someday. Thanks for your vivid description.
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Ann Harding
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Postby Ann Harding » March 29th, 2008, 12:07 pm

Moira: Duvivier is certainly among my favourite directors. 8) He usually offers a very dark view of human beings. His films with Gabin are tremendous. There are also a few others that I treasure such as La Fin du Jour (The end of the day, 1939) about a nursing home for retired actors. The film manages to be touching and incredibly ferocious with these old people with fabulous performances from Louis Jouvet and Michel Simon.
He directed another Zola adaptation in 1958: Pot-Bouille with Gérard Philipe and Danielle Darrieux. It shows the rise of the same Octave Mouret (a few years before Au Bonheur des Dames), an incredibly ambitious young man who arrives in Paris to conquer it. A brilliant film as well. :)

Fernando: you're right Les Galeries Lafayette is an Art Nouveau building. :wink:

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Postby silentscreen » March 30th, 2008, 12:22 pm

The film sounds really interesting and the visuals look stunning Christine! :)
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard

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Postby Gagman 66 » March 30th, 2008, 2:55 pm

Ann Harding,

:? Sorry to say that I am not familiar with the Actress, or the Director I don't believe? And I have never heard of this movie, but If it is Region Free, and a nice restoration with a good score, I will definitely be checking it out! Thanks much for the terrific review, and the recommendation! :wink:

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Postby charliechaplinfan » April 3rd, 2008, 4:40 pm

Everything you say about this film is so true. I've absolutely loved it, Christine. It's so full of atomosphere and the photography is so captivating.

The story encapsulates lots of different threads like petty jealousies, work romances, work sex pest, big business crushing small. It is so well told.

Dita Parlo is my favorite actresses from this period. Am I right in saying she was German? She have the most gorgeous big eyes and a lovely expressive face.

One of the stars of the film is the Gallerie Lafeyette. I presume the company filmed in there when the store was closed. It's beautiful, absolutely stunning. The beauty of the store set against the shabbiness of the little business, it's like the devil is tempting us with nice things. Two other films I love with department stores in them Safety Last and My Best Girl but this store far surpasses them.

The finish of the film is right, the big boss isn't necessarily the bad guy, he has a heart. There is a fairytale wrapped up in this film.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Postby bdp » April 12th, 2008, 7:09 pm

I enjoyed this film immensely, though I'm not certain yet how I really feel about it. There were some fleeting elements of melodrama and I didn't necessarily like how it ended up, but my first thought was 'so the whole Wal-Mart phenomenon isn't new.' The print is gorgeous and the camerawork endlessly fascinating; some of the shots have a documentary feel. Well worth a look. Oh, and the score was excellent, so many scores don't know how to pause, breathe - this one was masterful.

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Postby Ann Harding » April 13th, 2008, 2:48 am

I am glad you enjoyed it, Kyle! :D Actually, I understand your feeling regarding the relationship between Denise and Octave Mouret. The film has condensed a lot the story. The novel spreads several years and shows the complex evolution of the two characters. Here it's very sketchy and not very convincing. BTW the (happy) ending is that of the novel.

Another point, Emile Zola was describing in his novel -written in 1883- the creation of the first department store ever: Le Bon Marché created in 1852 in Paris. The film has transposed the story to the 1920s when department stores were already numerous in Paris...

As for the score, you're right, it's very good. It was composed by the Canadian Gabriel Thibaudeau who works as a pianist at the Canadian Cinémathèque. He also did the score for Poil de Carotte which is equally good. :)
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Postby silentscreen » April 13th, 2008, 7:13 am

I totally agree with Kyle and Christine. This movie has a German Expressionistic feel to it while being completely modern in look and story. The camera work in the street scenes remiinds me a bit of "Sunrise." And the montages of "Progress" and the wreckage of the old way of life are reminiscent of the latter movie as well.

Kyle is right. The Wal-Mart phenomenon has been going on in this country for quite some time. The small "mom and pop" shops can't compete and progress leaves the wreckage of free enterprise for the small guy in it's wake. Armand Bour as Denise's uncle represents the frustrations of the small business owner in a most dramatic way!

The only thing that disappointed me was that I wanted to see Octave and Denise go off some where together and start a small, high end store of their own instead of caving into big business.

Excellent film and good food for thought from a masterful French director! :)
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard


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