Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne directed by Robert Bresson and made in 1945 stars Maria Casares and the film belongs to her. After having seen her in Jean Cocteau's Orpheus it takes some getting used to but she does have the hard exterior of the Queen of the Underworld in Orpheus- a little more subdued yet an underhanded society woman - Helene. The film was made five years before Orpheus and Cocteau wrote the script. Born Maria Victoria Casares Perez she was the daughter of the President of the Spanish Republic in 1936 so royalty suits her well. Her first acting role was in Marcel Carnes Les Enfants du Paradis made the same year as Les Dames du Bois de Bologne when she was 23. It's hard to believe that she was that young with her long hair and sophisticated looks, and there are no 23 year olds who look as mature as Maria Casares today. The story is adapted from Denis Diderot's novel Jacques le Fataliste and Casares is a modern day Madame de La Pommeraye.
The story is about Helene' and her lover Jean has lost interest in her, though it is hard to believe, He even wants to pawn her off to the older Jacques. So in order to pay him back Helene schemes to get him to marry Agnes Elina Labourdette who was once a prostitute Agnes by the way is quite a good dancer and does cartwheels and ballet in two scenes of the film. Helene is a previous neighbor to Agnes and her mother and have them move into her apartment because of their financial difficulties. You have to feel sorry for the two because Helene is out for blood. Then to get even with Jean she tells him after the wedding about Agnes' past.
When Casares is not on screen the melodrama about a fallen woman, a man who falls for her and a woman who is determined to get revenge withers. Perhaps Jean and Helene were in the throes of love as Jean and Agnes at one time, but seeing the two in love. They seem a bit better matched, a little seedy, a little coarse, and flamboyant and devil may care, but this couple seems right. On her wedding night Agnes faints and falls to the floor with her wedding dress gathered around her, almost like a wilted flower. Jean carries her to the bed where she has a series of fainting episodes. The film is not only a story of love and revenge but class difference. The women who walk in the nearby park at night in, the Bois du Boulogne located in the 16th arrondisement or section of Paris, are prostitutes. Helene as the society woman walks in it the park during the day. The film released by Criterion is not one of Bresson's best and it's perplexing why he chose this property. But Casares has to be one of the reasons to make this film.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan
© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 3/09
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
France - 1945