Le Plaisir. 1952. France. Directed by Max Ophuls. In French; English subtitles. 91 min.
Screenplay by Ophuls, Jacques Natonson, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant. With Madeleine Renaud, Danielle Darrieux, Pierre Brasseur, Jean Gabin, Peter Ustinov. The second film Ophuls made upon his return to postwar Europe is a tryptic of Maupassant stories, each exposing the sinister side of the pursuit of pleasure, as captured in René Péron’s juxtaposition of vivid foreground and moody background in his one-panel poser for the film. Most distinctive for the director’s elaborately choreographed tracking and crane shots (including a vertiginous ball scene that opens the film) and the richly detailed mise-en-scène of Belle Epoque settings, the film is also notable in the certain tenderness the director imparts on his characters and an attention to female subjectivity, both departures from the writer’s cynicism. Yet, at the end of it, the narrator can only profess, “Happiness is no lark.”