I’m afraid that my grasp of the French language has permanently halted at the level of fluency and comprehension of a 5-year-old (no thanks to the seven cumulative years that I spent trying to study it), so I can’t say whether or not the plot of La Princesse de Clèves (1961) is any good. I can, however, say that the costumes are … interesting.
Based on the 17th-century novel allegedly by Madame de La Fayette, the story centers around the young Princesse de Clèves, a fictionalized character set amongst the historical French court and events in the year spanning 1557-1558. However, the costumes (designed by none other than Pierre Cardin) are much more in keeping with the 1580s, and they include more than their fair share of modernisms.
So, what’s the film about? The beautiful Princesse (Marina Vlady) is married to the older and average-looking Prince de Clèves (Jean Marais), so obviously she is ripe for falling in love with the more age-appropriate and dashing Duc de Nemours (Jean-François Poron). Various intrigues and whatnot occur, with perky little Dauphine Mary Stuart (Renée-Marie Potet), a cigar-smoking Catherine d’Medici (Lea Padovani), and scheming Diane de Poitiers (Annie Ducaux) providing insights and moving the plot along to its inevitable, eye-rollingly tragic conclusion.
Seriously, the whole movie can be summed up thusly: Pretty girl is married to old, ugly guy, but is in love with hot, younger guy. Old, ugly guy dies, everyone tries REALLY HARD to convince pretty girl to get together with hot, younger guy who she totally is in love with, but she has some kind bizarre moral code that prevents her, even as a widow and free to marry, from being with the dude she loves. So, she tortures everyone with her protestations of fidelity to the dead guy and then suddenly dies for no explicable reason, leaving a beautiful corpse behind. The end.
From what I can gather, the book ended differently, with the lovers parting ways after the Princesse insists on remaining faithful to her dead husband, and she enters a convent. After a number of years pass, Nemours gets over his infatuation with her and moves the fuck on, because dude, no-one should waste their time pining over someone who is committed to making themselves as miserable as possible. But you know, movie deaths and tragic heroines are always good for reeling in the audiences.
The Princesse’s Costumes in La Princesse de Clèves
Mary Stuart’s Costumes in La Princesse de Clèves
Catherine d’Medici’s Costumes in La Princesse de Clèves
Diane de Poitiers’ Costumes in La Princesse de Clèves
Female Extras in La Princesse de Clèves
The Guys’ Costumes in La Princesse de Clèves
The Verdict on La Princesse de Clèves:
Well, it’s complicated. On the one hand, the eye candy is great. On the other, zippers and weird hats. I’d say it’s worth a watch at least once, provided you can deal with the fact that the Princesse is absolutely determined to make herself as miserable as possible for no good reason.
Have you seen La Princesse de Clèves? Weigh in!