Jacques Becker (director)
25 October 2021 (released)
24 October 2021
This French film was actually made during the German occupation in 1944 and still holds up remarkably well after all these years. The versatile director/writer Jacques Becker took a little detour from his usual crime and drama films with FALBALAS, a cynical observation set amid the world of haute couture.
PARIS FRILLS is the English title and is perhaps more appropriate for this eminently watchable film; most of which is set in a Paris fashion house, namely that of genius Parisian designer of 'ladies gowns' Philippe Clarence (Belgian actor Raymond Rouleau). It may seem an unlikely setting nevertheless it is one that works well.
Philippe has a rather magnetic personality and runs his fashion house on a tight rein ...well, a slovenly attitude is hardly the key to success. This absolute charmer of a fellow is also an incorrigible Don Juan when it comes to the ladies and very few attractive females are safe from Philippe's roving eye – regardless whether fashion models or employees. One of his models, Anne-Marie (Francoise Lugagne) is also a jilted lover but still continues working (and mentally torturing herself) at his fashion house. Despite Philippe treating her like a doormat she still holds a mighty flame for this latter day Lothario. After witnessing what goes on in at the salon we meet Daniel Rousseau (Jean Chevrier), a good friend of Philippes. Daniel runs a silk manufacturing company that supplies Philippe's company and excitedly explains to his friend that he is soon to be married. Upon meeting the charming bride-to-be, Micheline Lafaune (Micheline Presle), our fashion designer cum love rat, is immediately smitten. He tells her straightaway that as a present, he will design her wedding dress (btw the gowns for the film were all created by then top dog Marcel Rochas). Obviously Philippe’s motives are far from honourable and this is the woman about to be married to one of his best friends! Fortuitously for the rascal in question the rather gauche Daniel has to go away for a few weeks (bad timing that) to correct poorly woven silk that Philippe isn’t happy about.
At first Micheline tries hard to resist Philippes overtures but the devil eventually gets his wicked way and it looks like the wedding is off as Micheline now believes she has fallen in love with Philippe after he takes her out to wine and dine and designs more outlandish outfits for her. Tongues begin to wag, Annie-Marie is bitter and Solange (Gabrielle Dorziat), Philippe’s creative backbone (and due to her age one of the very few women he doesn’t woo) can see trouble brewing long before he can. Even after Daniel has returned from his trip, Micheline lies to him and comes up with excuses as to why she needs to leave the house, in truth though she has one secret rendezvous after another with Philippe… who has the effrontery to ‘advise’ his friend Daniel after he confesses to him that his girlfriend’s behaviour seems erratic and that she doesn’t seem so keen on the wedding any longer. The swine then tells Daniel to be more patient because “women are fickle creatures” before asking Micheline out for another meeting in a park. Here, he suddenly tells her that it was all just a bit of fun and that for the next few weeks he will be insanely busy with his new collection and thus won’t have much time for her. Micheline, needless to say, is not overly pleased to know she has been used in such a way… being his creative muse when it suits him but now that he’s busy she can shove off.
Despite this blow, Micheline keeps her appointment for the fitting of the wedding dress under the condition Philippe stay away from her – but before she knows it and he knows it the old attraction flares up again. Then Daniel arrives at the fashion salon to discuss the wedding dress when he finally susses that something is going on between his friend and his soon to be wife. Now that the cat is out of the bag the friendship between the two men is obviously heading towards a collision but things are set to get even more tragic. Philippe's ex Anne-Marie eavesdrops on a conversation he is having at the salon with Micheline and in despair she commits suicide. Philippe then re-evaluates his own rascally behaviour and proposes to Micheline. It seems an unlikely arsy-versy for an all time love rat - but we are all different aren't we? Daniel by the way is prepared to stand by the wronged Micheline throughout. Despite her still having feelings for Philippe (who isn't really that bad) tragedy must inevitably ensue in a love triangle such as this…
This is very much a French film not that there is anything wrong with that. The French never suffered from a stiff upper lip and in the long run it would seem turned out the better for it (perhaps Napoleon had the last laugh after all) The film looks good and succeeds totally in holding our attention without being a minute too long. It has a solid cast to boot with fine performances from the leads.
Bonus Material on this wonderfully restored Blu-ray release includes:
‘Falabals: a Family Affair – interview with the director’s son / Fashion & Clothing with Jean Paul Gaultier / Auditions and Restored Version / Interview with Micheline Presle (recorded twenty years ago) – Presle, at the time of writing this review, is still with us short of her 100th birthday!