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With: Raymond Rouleau, Micheline Presle, Jean Chevrier, Gabrielle Dorziat, Jeanne Fusier-Gir, Francoise Lugagne, Christiane Barry, Francois Joux
Written by: Maurice Aubergé, Jacques Becker, Maurice Griffe
Directed by: Jacques Becker
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 19/03/2013

Falbalas (1945)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Dressed for Success

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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I'm tempted to call Jacques Becker's Falbalas (a.k.a. Furbelows) (1945) a classic, but that wouldn't be entirely correct. Even though I think it's a great film, and it was made 55 years ago, it has never been shown in the United States or even subtitled in English. But now a fresh print with new laser subtitles is making the film festival rounds and finally gracing the screens of San Francisco. And with luck, it may receive a video and DVD release someday.

Writer Philip Lopate called this film "the greatest movie ever made about the fashion industry". And despite the fact that I can only think of two other movies about the fashion industry, Robert Altman's Pret-a-Porter (1994), and the documentary Unzipped (1995), I think he's right. In Falbalas, Raymond Rouleau plays Philippe Clarence, a top Paris fashion designer. His fabric distributor, Daniel (Jean Chevrier) is about to be married to the lovely Micheline (Micheline Presle), but Philippe falls for her and tries to win her away.

There's no question that Philippe is presented as a true bastard. One of his female workers has been in love with him for five years, and he knows it, but he shows no tenderness, nor does he even acknowledge her. He's also surrounded by hundreds of women every day, both models and women who work sewing the dresses. It's telling that the one woman he's finally interested in is engaged to someone else. But we identify with him, not only because of his charm and wit (and the performance by Rouleau), but because Becker starts the movie by showing us his death.

It's a striking image, of Philippe caressing the body of a mannequin in a wedding dress, just having leaped out of a high window. Like any classic film noir, the image of his death haunts us throughout the whole movie. He's doomed no matter what he does. (Most of the great Hollywood film noirs were made around this same time, like Double Indemnity, Laura, Detour, etc.).

Becker began his career as an assistant to the great Jean Renoir, and probably picked up a few things from that master working on Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), A Day in the Country (1936), and Grand Illusion (1937) among others. Renoir's greatest gift was finding a connection between human emotions and the cinema, and Becker seems to have accomplished that, perhaps to a lesser degree, in Falbalas.

At the same time, Falbalas achieves camp value through its treatment of the cutthroat fashion industry. Not to mention its ideas of hip fashion, circa 1945. All the women have big hair and wear too much makeup and high heels. The designer screams at the models and complains if they "have no bust!". It makes me think of the opening of Unzipped with Isaac Mizrahi watching Nanook of the North (1922) and being inspired to make Eskimo-like clothes. Falbalas is a film that he would get a big hoot out of, but would also be inspired by. Perhaps there isn't a universal worldwide audience for this film, but true connoisseurs will be delighted.

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