TBT: If Paris Were Told to Us (1956)

13

French film/stage director, actor, and writer Sacha Guitry (1885-1957) was a huge proponent of historical films. Most notably, he made a biopic of Napoleon (1955), and several episodic films depicting French history: The Pearls of the Crown (1937), Let’s Go Up the Champs-Elysées (1938), Royal Affairs in Versailles (1955) — and If Paris Were Told to Us (1956). I’ve wanted to watch Royal Affairs in Versailles for a while now, since French history is my jam and it hits on many of the fabulous people associated with that palace, including Queen Marie-Antoinette. I got all excited because I finally found an online version, only to discover that the original French dialogue had been overdubbed with Russian. So I gave in and watched Guitry’s film about the history of Paris, since I could at least watch it in the original French.

If Paris Were Told to Us (Si Paris Nous Etait Conté) is basically framed as a modern-day (what I think is a) professor talking about Parisian history to a bunch of college-age students. I’m semi-fluent in French, but often miss some of the subtleties, so you’re going to have to go with my vagueness here! The film cuts back and forth between this prof and various scenes from Parisian history; it mostly moves in chronological order, but not always — for example, we see King François I acquiring the Mona Lisa in the 16th century, and then jump to the famous theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. Because of this jumping through history, I don’t know that it’s the most riveting film ever made — it’s hard to get attached to any characters here. But it was interesting at least as a visual skim!

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Also, this guy periodically shows up and sings very, very cheesy songs.

The film is VERY 1950s in terms of costumes and design. The two credited costume designers are Monique Dunan (1924-2002), who also costumed Royal Affairs in VersaillesNapoleon (1955), and Les Rois Maudits (1972), and Maggy Rouff, who co-designed Royal Affairs and Napoleon. Unfortunately I can’t find much information about the costumes — there’s lots written on director Guitry and the various subtexts of his “costume movies,” but I can’t really find anything about the costume design or execution.

So instead, let’s content ourselves with checking out If Paris Were Told to Us‘s take on various key figures from French history!

 

Charlotte of Savoy (1461-83) and Louis XI (1423-83)

1956 Si Paris nous etait conte

Her dress is very unfortunately Christmas-y, and okay so yes they liked wimples and draped headdresses, but I have many, many questions about the execution of this one.

The real Charlotte:

Charlotte de Savoie, detail of the right pane of a diptych of devotion representing the Adoration of the shepherds with Charlotte of Savoy and Saint Francis, c. 1472, via Wikimedia Commons.

Charlotte de Savoie, detail of the right pane of a diptych of devotion representing the Adoration of the shepherds with Charlotte of Savoy and Saint Francis, c. 1472, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Agnès Sorel (1422-50)

Mistress of Charles VII of France (the king Joan of Arc fought for).

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Danielle Darrieux as Sorel.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

I doubt that period hennins looked like atomic Christmas trees, but ok!

Unfortunately the only contemporary image I can find of Sorel is this one, where she’s dressed as the Madonna:

Jean Fouquet, Madonna Surrounded by Seraphim and Cherubim, 1452 (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp).

I’m not sure if her tomb effigy is contemporary, but in case it is:

Tomb of Agnès Sorel in the Collégiale Saint-Ours de Loches, via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of Agnès Sorel in the Collégiale Saint-Ours de Loches, via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of Agnès Sorel in the Collégiale Saint-Ours de Loches, via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of Agnès Sorel in the Collégiale Saint-Ours de Loches, via Wikimedia Commons. I flipped this image around to try to get a perspective on her dress.

 

François I (1494-1547), Eleanor of Austria (1498-1558), and Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566)

François is played by Jean Marais (Princess of Cleves). He does some taunting of his wife, who I THINK must be Eleanor of Austria?? Acquires the Mona Lisa and heads off to shag a mistress.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Jean Marais on the set of “Si Paris Nous Etait Conte”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

François’s ensemble seems inspired by this portrait:

Jean Clouet, Francis I of France, 1527-30, Louvre Museum

Jean Clouet, Francis I of France, 1527-30, Louvre Museum

I THINK this is Diane de Poitiers — anyone know?

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Jean Marais on the set of “Si Paris Nous Etait Conte”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The real Diane:

Workshop of François Clouet, Diane de Poitiers duchesse de Valentinois, mid-16th c., Musée Condé

Workshop of François Clouet, Diane de Poitiers duchesse de Valentinois, mid-16th c., Musée Condé

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

That’s the queen, seated in the center, and some court floozies.

Assuming that is Eleanor, here’s the only contemporary image I can find of her in French dress:

Francis I of France (1494-1547) with Eleanor of Austria, 1520-40, Royal Collection

Francis I of France (1494-1547) with Eleanor of Austria, 1520-40, Royal Collection

 

Henri IV (1553-1610) and Gabrielle d’Estrées (1573-99)

Henri is shown as being poncy with his Easter Egg-colored courtiers while the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre takes place, then an older Henri hangs with his chief mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées (Michèle Morgan of Shadow of the Guillotine).

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Seriously, all those guys on the left look just as Easter Egg-y on screen.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Michèle Morgan’s dress is actually quite beautifully made, even if the embroidery(?) is way too heavy handed, color-wise, and there’s some serious bust darts going on.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

FRANCE – OCTOBER 07: Jean Martinelli (Henri Iv) And Michele Morgan (Gabrielle D’Estrees) In Sacha Guitry’S Play. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

All the contemporary images of Gabrielle show her naked, which aren’t very helpful.

Gabrielle d'Estrées

Presumed portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées and one of her sisters (the duchess of Villars?), c. 1594. Louvre Museum.

I wonder if they were inspired at all for her costume by this early 19th c. image?

François Fleury-Richard, Henri IV chez Gabrielle d’Estrées, c. 1810-12, Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon

François Fleury-Richard, Henri IV chez Gabrielle d’Estrées, c. 1810-12, Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon

 

Léonard Autié (c. 1751-1820) and Rose Bertin (1747-1813)

There’s a whole mid- to late-18th century bit centered around what I think are fictional aristocrats, but in between pop up 18th century hairdresser to the stars Léonard and marchande de modes/fashion designer Rose Bertin. Voltaire and others show up, but they’re SO not shiny and I got bored.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

I think Ms. Casa Collection is random?

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Léonard doing his thing!

Sadly I can’t find any contemporary images of the real Léonard!

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Rose Bertin should beat her shop assistants more, given the fit of that bodice.

The real Rose Bertin:

Rose Bertin by Peter Adolf Hall, before 1793 | Drouot

 

Marie-Antoinette (1755-93) and Louis XVI (1754-93)

The French Revolution breaks out, and while there’s a few shots of rabble rousers, it’s mostly focused on a tragic Marie-Antoinette (Lana Marconi) being sent to the Conciergerie prison and then being tried before the revolutionary tribunal.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Marconi is ALL white satin with weird wrist ruffles; I think that’s Madame Elisabeth in the back?

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Marie-Antoinette mostly wears this white cotton number to her trial. Sadly, the moment where she appeals to her fellow mothers falls SUPER flat.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

She does get one change into this black number.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Because backs-of-hair interest me!

I’m guessing they were inspired by these two portraits of Marie-Antoinette during her imprisonment:

Alexander Kucharsky, Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1792, Palace of Versailles

Alexander Kucharsky, Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1792, Palace of Versailles

Alexander Kucharsky, La reine Marie-Antoinette en habit de veuve à la prison de la Conciergerie, 1793, Palace of Versailles

Alexander Kucharsky, La reine Marie-Antoinette en habit de veuve à la prison de la Conciergerie, 1793, Palace of Versailles

 

Empress Eugenie (1826-1920)

Empress Eugenie and her ladies-in-waiting turn up, recreating the famous portrait by Winterhalter that a group including myself, Trystan, and Sarah recreated — so we’ve spent FAR too much time looking at the original, and of course I was then overly excited to see their translation in the film.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

I could point out a million differences, but I’ll try to keep it to a low roar:

1956 Si Paris nous etait conte

WHY is Eugenie a redhead? Also, they’re missing a fichu.

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

They’ve repositioned some of the ladies and missed the tiers on the pink dress’s skirt. They did okay by green.

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

She should have many, many blue bows! And a blue and black hair hooha!

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Trystan is currently laugh/crying, as this was her dress. They went SUPER CLUNKY with the lace.

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

Detail from Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Eugénie, Empress of the French and her Ladies, 1855, Musée National de Palais de Compiègne

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

No idea who this rando is, she’s not in the portrait.

1956 Si Paris nous était conté

Neither was Cinderella blue!

 

Have you managed to make it through a Sacha Guitry historical film?

Tags

About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

13 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m trying not to laugh uproariously especially the bad Winterhalter portrait version. I would be very interested in seeing yours and Tristan’s. Why do most of the costumes look in need of a fitter?

    Reply
  2. NuitsdeYoung

    The chap with the Easter Egg courtiers is Henri III, with his ‘mignons’; not a young Henri IV.

    Reply
  3. Damnitz

    I made it through “Napoléon” (1955). Very very boring. Sacha Guitry has his own idea of Cinema. I had the Impression that he refused to entertain the audience. “Napoléon” had some of the most boring battle Scenes I ever saw (although the miniseries with Christian Clavier was very boring too). Even the uniforms were bad.
    However I alway tried to look the movie about Versailles, just for my interest.

    Reply
  4. louisD

    Royal affairs on Versailles is very fun, if you are not affraid of a lot of witty sparkling dialogs (some deliberately anachronistics). Guitry came from the theatre and is famous for his « bons mots ».
    If you want a lot of action, you may find it boring. Otherwise if you like a stellar cast ( all the french who’ s who plus Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles), great funny dialogues and not affraid of very 50’s costumes (and zippers), you’ll love it.

    Reply
  5. Just Me

    Not about the costumes in the film, but does anyone else think Agnés Sorel as the Madonna looks like she’s thinking “where the fuck did my nipple go?”

    Also, this is the first time i’ve seen that contemporary portrait of Francis I and Eleanor of Austria; i’m not sure if it was meant to look like caricature, but i like it.

    Reply
  6. Laura

    Oh, placement of boobs (and to a smaller extent, the many ugly babies) in medieval paintings, you never cease being a source of amusement for me.

    Reply

Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.