Written and directed by Jacques Becker, co-written by Maurice Aubergé and Maurice Griffe, Philippe Clarence (Raymond Rouleau), a famous Parisian dressmaker, seduces his friend’s fiancee and finds himself falling in love for the first time. Also starring: Micheline Presle, Jean Chevrier and Gabrielle Dorziat.
The surprising aspect of Falbalas is the tone, it’s offbeat and slightly quirky, which is highly unusual for a romance made in the 1940s. It’s one of the writing’s strengths but sadly it’s fighting against a rather drawn out story. The occasional touch of humour can’t make up for the poor pacing, it hits what feel like climaxes of its plot multiple times before it ultimately reaches its end. There’s then the issue of a very unsympathetic lead, Philippe is your classic ladies man, always moving onto the next conquest but what he’s missing is charm. It’s the type of character that can lead a film easily if he’s charismatic or smooth-tongued but Philippe sadly has neither. He has rather a childish personality, over aggressive, selfish, lacks maturity and believes his talent for fashion makes up for his missing people skills, when it’s actually not much of a trade off.
Jacques Becker’s direction emphasises that issue with pacing, it can be longwinded, slow tracking shots which prove unnecessary and indulgent. With that exception, the directorial style as a whole is good and holds a solid personality. There are some magnificent close-ups of its leads, with a wonderful detail which elevate the film’s atmosphere, it’s just a shame that can’t be extended throughout. Even in black and white it easily captures the essence of its haute couture, you can feel the colour its beautiful costumes must have held. It will quickly feel like an influence on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread but he wasn’t really a fan of this outing from Becker.
With the demanding, self-assured and short-tempered persona set up for Philippe, Raymond Rouleau brings that to the table to the fullest extent. His performance is highly emotional, driven and emphatic, he may not be the most likeable but he is intensely committed. Micheline Presle provides a good personality to balance out Rouleau’s dominating presence but she’s held back by the overly ditsy edge given to her character. Jean Chevrier then adds a more sympathetic, positive edge to even things out further, he doesn’t get too much screen time but he has a bubbly presence which is sweet to watch. Another reason that Falbalas might draw comparisons to Phantom Thread is Gabrielle Dorziat’s Solange, feeling much like Lesley Manville’s Cyril. She’s the steadfast, level headed partner to Philippe’s passionate artiste, attempting to keep his feet on the ground and head out of the clouds. Although unfortunately you don’t get to learn too much about her.
Falbalas has a great personality and strong direction but it moves far too slowly and paces itself out in a disappointingly unsatisfying manner. While Rouleau gives an energetic and fiery performance, his character doesn’t quite have a persuasive enough charm to balance his temper and lead this story effectively. It’s a rare example of a film with a unique, offbeat tone made in the 40s but it ultimately gives in to convention and drags its feet along the way.