Au Bonheur Des Dames (1930) - dir Julien Duvivier

I've now played for all four of the Julien Duvivier films in the series at MoMA, with two repeats to come. So far my favorite is La Vie miraculeuse de Therese Martin, perhaps because its storyline is much more simple than the other 3 pictures. All of them have stunning visuals, very nice cinematography and a great deal of use of superimpositions (often multiples or matted tryptichs) to show what is going on in the mind of a particular character. The plot lines of the other 3 are not as airtight – interesting, considering 2 of them were based on novels – and story developments appear or disappear without justification. Au Bonheur des Dames ("Women's Pleasure"), based on a Zola novel, is the loosest with characters and their storylines coming out of nowhere or being discarded. Its stunning production design, cinematography and layered visuals are smoke-and-mirrors that keep you entertained.

But it's precisely this aspect that makes the Duvivier films particularly juicy ones to accompany because there is so much visually to respond to dramatically; whether the storylines are thoroughly carried out or not there is at least a lot of drama in the scenes both in terms of the acting and the visuals. This is often a factor with film accompaniment. Some of the Russian pictures are very simple plot-wise but there is a lot of drama to work with. The toughest films are ones that have less to offer dramatically (Griffith's Dream Street comes to mind...).

I had a hard time deciding what genre/flavor the film was as I accompanied it, and as I discussed the film with some audience members after the show realized I wasn't crazy...the film does have a few different styles and plots. It starts off as a jazz age department store drama, then it's about the girl's father's failing business, then she gets a job as a model at the dept store and there is a near-catfight in lingerie among the girls in the dressing room, then some lecherous business with two different bosses trying to make a move on her, then another subplot with a Baron who is helping finance the dept store, then they all have a "let's go to Coney" sequence (only we're in France), then the girl's brother's fiancee is suddenly near-death ill, then construction on the new dept store make a lot of noise and causes the father to go nuts and shoots a bunch of people in the dept store, only to get run over...then time passes and the new dept store is finally built, the girl tells one of the lecherous bosses she's always loved him (?!) and a skywrite writes the name of the store "Au Bonheur des dames" in the sky but the "Au" fades away leaving "bonheur" or "happiness"...and fade out.

You can rent or buy the DVD of this from Facets, who also sells/rents Poil de carrotte. These DVD's are U.S. releases of the French Lobster DVD's of these films, which feature musical scores composed by Gabriel Thibedeau and performed by an octet (there is a female vocalist who sings in a number of places in Au Bonheur).

Below are a bunch of screen shots from the film, just to give you an idea of the production design and scale and the cinematography. This film repeats at MoMA on Saturday, and so I'll get another crack at this one.