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Film Review: Falbalas

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Maurice Aubergé, Jacques Becker and Maurice Griffe

Directors: Jacques Becker

While the arrival of Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ in 1947 certainly offered a dramatic shift in the style and construct of women’s clothing, French fashion houses had long been a place where the pressure to be á la mode was felt by customers and designers alike. Jacques Becker’s film Paris Frills, which receives a DVD and Blu-ray release under its original French title Falbalas, explores the behind-the-scenes tension and personal relationships as toxic masculinity gets its comeuppance in an enjoyable psychodrama.

With his latest collection struggling to come together, the terse and difficult Philippe Clarence has lost all inspiration and interest, especially in his succession of muse-girlfriends. But when close friend Daniel Rousseau introduces Philippe to his young fiancée Micheline Lafaurie and asks him to make her wedding dress, the designer pursues her risking his reputation and his business for obsessive love.

Released in 1945, just before Dior upended women’s fashion, there is something celebratory about Falbalas with its focus on glamour, beauty and the power of design to enhance a woman’s physique that chimes with a city returning to life and colour at the end of the Second World War and there is, quite deliberately, no sense of austerity or of the Parisian wartime experience in the visual qualities of Becker’s film that looks to emulate the glossy Hollywood noir style with beautifully tailored outfits and well-turned out couturier staff and clients at every turn.

Building to a fashion show, Becker captures the buzz of the workroom as designs are ripped-up and seamstresses make rapid alterations, as well as the process of fitting to (rather grumpy) models and the refusal to compromise on fabrics and style choices. That all of this plays out against a backdrop of workplace angst is often very entertaining as writers Maurice Aubergé, Maurice Griffe and Becker sew in simmering resentments, unrequited love and the hierarchies of the house as it tries to deliver a successful fashion line.

But Falbalas is also a human story of a fairly unpleasant leading man who may design to enhance women’s figures but treats his girlfriends with dismissive contempt in a series of relationships with models and staff. That he initially behaves the same way to Micheline is interesting before realising his mistake and falling in love with her, at which point the film becomes a study of coercion and, to an extent, karmic revenge for his misdeeds.

Becker manages the descent into Philippe’s obsession well, aligning it with the designer’s equally demanding rages about fabrics and styles that are visually represented in the choice of camerawork, using noir and sometime early Hitchcock-like approaches that ratchet up the tension as Philippe’s grip on reality weakens. That the audience isn’t asked to pity him is interesting, an early example of an antihero whose toxicity ultimately signals his downfall and Becker emphasises the pressure he heaps on the affianced young women he desires.

Raymond Rouleau is excellent as Philippe, an artist who demands a perfection few can fulfil but its something he asks of himself as well. Philippe is hard to like but Rouleau makes his progress compelling. Micheline Presle as Micheline proves a decisive presence in the end, refusing to be pressed into a drastic step she’s not sure she wants to take while Jean Chevrier’s outraged Daniel and Gabrielle Dorziat’s soulful Solange offer good contextual support on both sides.

Given a new restoration and accompanied by extras including interviews with Jean-Paul Gaultier and Presle, Falbalas still has plenty of flair, a fascinating example of post-war filmmaking and fashion.

Falbalas is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 25 October.

 

The Reviews Hub Score:

Plenty of flair

The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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