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  Falbalas Ultimate Fashion Victim
Year: 1945
Director: Jacques Becker
Stars: Raymond Rouleau, Micheline Presle, Jean Chevrier, Gabrielle Dorziat, Jeanne Fusier-Gir, Francoise Lugagne, Christiane Barry, Rosine Luguet, Yolande Bloin, Eveline Volney, Maria Carld, Francois Joux, George Roullet, Marc Doelnitz
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Philippe Clarence (Raymond Rouleau) lies dead on the ground in his large garden, a pristine clothes dummy in his arms. A group of girls walk up and look down on him in bemused disdain, quietly marvelling at how happy he seems and how the dummy remains intact despite the fall from a great height it has suffered. But how did Clarence come to this state of affairs? Well, affair is the operative word, for as a man immersed in the world of women, he had a tendency to seduce any lady who caught his imagination. He was a top Paris fashion designer, renowned across France and further afield, and he was trouble...

The way director Jacques Becker gave away the ending of his movie right at the beginning was a curious choice, given that it defuses some of the suspense, but this was no normal look at the fashion world. About as far from The Devil Wears Prada as you could imagine, and maybe closer to Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread if not as arch, Falbalas - translated in English as Paris Frills - was a noirish melodrama created under the last few months of the Nazi occupation of France, and as a consequence there was a mood about it that did not quite match the sumptuousness of the cultural milieu it so carefully depicted.

Not that the Nazis were part of the plot, you could watch this and have little idea there had been a war on at the time at all, but the post-war tone of fatalism and general malaise, despite the victory of the forces of good over evil, seemed to be pre-empted by works like this (it was released just as the war had been over for a short while). Indeed, in light of how the storyline resolved itself, there was a streak of the macabre in Becker's vision, no matter that it was widely believed to have been a loving tribute to his mother, who had been a figure in the pre-war fashion industry in Paris. What this said about that relationship was... interesting.

Maybe the fact that his mother's fashion house had failed coloured his perception of the whole shebang, but there was a definite sense of women being let down by these leading lights of what they were supposed to aspire to wear, if Clarence was anything to go by. Not a great guy, he barks orders at his underlings, and if they are in love with him so much the better for him to manipulate them, if not, he has the power to order them around regardless, especially if they want to stay in this line of business. But even a monster like him has his weaknesses, and ironically it is a woman who proved that downfall we witnessed in the first couple of minutes as on meeting his friend Daniel (Jean Chevrier) at his new apartment, there's someone else there too.

He meets Micheline (veteran star Micheline Presle, just starting out on her decades-long career) in the block's lift, and is immediately smitten. He knows how this will go, he'll turn on the charm, seduce her, and move onto the next conquest, it doesn't matter that she is Daniel's fiancee, but this time things do not go well for him. Bizarrely, it is hinted this is down to Micheline's resemblance to Clarence's specially designed dummy, the one he took a tumble with at the beginning, for she represents his ideal woman and the one he thought he would never meet: someone to dress up and sit back and admire his handiwork all over. But Micheline turns out not to be as malleable as he expects, looking forward to the modern women who are not about to give everything they have earned for any man who comes along and flatters them - she even has doubts about nice but dull Daniel, now. The ending was quite something, as Clarence is literally locked in a reverie only death will break. Romantic? Eh, not really, not in the conventional way, but striking, yes. Music by Jean-Jacques Grunenwald.

[FALBALAS is released on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on Monday October 25 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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