Falbalas – Blu-Ray Review

Jacques Becker’s film, Falbalas reminded me quite a lot of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. It’s a film that Becker made during the German occupation of France, but it didn’t come out until after the Liberation. It’s not his best film (that’s probably his very last Le Trou, a stunner of a prison escape film). This came fairly early on his career, just as he was starting to get noticed as a director to look out for. It was the first film where he got a prominent credit as a director.

It’s about a woman who comes to Paris and gets swept off her feet by Philippe Clarence (played by Raymond Rouleau). Micheline Presle plays the woman, Micheline Lafaurie, who is also the fiancée of Philippe’s best friend. It gets messy, as you can imagine, with suicides. Instead of staying with her fiancée she is going to run away with this dressmaker, who is quite the ladies’ man around Paris.

It’s a solid French film made by a reliable director who was starting to find his craft during the war years. There’s high melodrama, the clothes are all pretty cool-looking, although it’s not anything amazing, Falbalas gives an interesting insight into the world of Paris fashion on the mid-’40s. It looks good, although they didn’t have loads of money to work with due to circumstances. Interestingly, it starts as kind of a light film about the Pars fashion world, but becomes increasingly dark as it goes on. The Phantom Thread parallels come up because the dressmaker has a weird relationship with his sister, and moves from woman to woman with no care—and then, like Phantom Thread again, it almost becomes a horror movie at the end.

Incidentally, designer John-Paul Gaultier says Falbalas was what made him want to go into fashion—it was what he expected it all to be like (no doubt he was a bit disappointed). It’s well-shot, and would make a perfect double bill at some point with Phantom Thread (incidentally, this one has an even darker ending involving a mannequin…)

This Blu-Ray from StudioCanal comes with a featurette, Falbalas, A Family Affair; an interview with Gaultier, an interview with Micheline Presle (who is, amazingly, still alive), plus footage of the Falbalas auditions.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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