Films of Innocence and Experience

Two Trios

Is it possible to discuss Two English Girls without bringing up Jules and Jim? François Truffaut’s 1971 film seems to live in the shadow of its better-known predecessor, shot ten years earlier, and not without reason. Both movies are based on semi-autobiographical novels by Henri-Pierre Roché; both were made by several of the same people, including Truffaut, screenwriter Jean Gruault and composer Georges Delerue; both feature narration throughout; and both focus on complex love triangles that shift and evolve over the course of quite a few years. In fact, a quick glance at a written summary of Two English Girls might suggest little more than a gender-flipped version of Jules and Jim, with its triangle comprising two women and a man instead of two men and a woman. However, in watching the film, it becomes clear almost immediately that Truffaut’s aims were drastically different this time around.

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Romantic Roulette: Bay of Angels (1963)

Iris In

Iris in on the French Riviera: A woman (Jeanne Moreau) with platinum blonde hair walks along a promenade that overlooks the water, a purse in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Her pace as she approaches the camera, though fairly brisk, is no match for that of the camera itself. It pulls back ever farther, ceaselessly, racing away from her so that she becomes an increasingly minuscule figure in the distance. After a moment, a piano begins to play — dramatic, impassioned, suffused with romantic longing. It’s the sort of score one expects to hear in a Jacques Demy film (right down to the fact that it was composed by his frequent collaborator Michel Legrand), yet the Demy film that follows this opening — 1963’s Bay of Angels — isn’t quite what the music might suggest.

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“Then we’ll be free”: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

Florence

“I’m the one who can’t take any more.”

Louis Malle’s 1958 film Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud) opens with an extreme close-up of Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau) uttering these desperate words. “I love you,” she continues. “So we have to. I love you. I won’t leave you, Julien. You know I’ll be there. With you.” As she speaks, the camera slowly pulls back to reveal, first, that she’s on the telephone and, secondly, that she’s wearing a wedding ring. It soon emerges that the man she’s speaking to is not her husband, Simon (Jean Wall), but her husband’s employee, Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet), and they’ve decided to kill Simon so that they can be together. “Then we’ll be free, Julien,” she says.

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