Le Plaisir (1952)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Romantic Drama  |   Run Time - 97 min.  |   Countries - France  |  
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Review by Craig Butler

It's hard to know where to begin singing the praises of Le Plaisir, one of the quartet of late masterpieces that capped the career of its brilliant and insightful director, Max Ophuls. To start with the absolute least of his achievements in Plaisir, Ophuls has created a superb anthology film, something which is notoriously hard to do. There's no worry about which of the stories in the film is best; even though the middle section is clearly the most important, both of the bookend pieces are excellent and, more importantly, are crucial to the development of the picture's themes. Adapting de Maupassant, Ophuls does so with a masterful understanding of how a literary work can be enhanced and transformed when rethought in cinematic terms, elevating and expanding rather than slavishly copying. The humanity, the sensitivity that Ophuls brings to the project lives side by side with the brutality and the melancholy that he also produces. And, of course, there's Ophuls' astoundingly inventive camera, including his trademark tracking shots, which are a marvel of grace, precision and drama. The final sequence also includes an incredible point-of-view shot that is still stunning even today, but even when his camera is still, Ophuls is working. One two and a half minute shot on board a train is static in terms of the camera, but not in terms of the deliberately and delicately choreographed movement of characters and set pieces within it. All of this would be so much smoke and mirrors, of course, were it not in the service of an engrossing story (or stories, as here), and Ophuls does not disappoint here either, creating a series of stories that paint a haunting picture not just of an era, but of the human soul. The cast is excellent, but Plaisir's extraordinary beauty is the work of its master director.