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!
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 Versailles, Napoleon (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)
The real Charlotte:
Agnès Sorel (1422-50)
Mistress of Charles VII of France (the king Joan of Arc fought for).
Unfortunately the only contemporary image I can find of Sorel is this one, where she’s dressed as the Madonna:
I’m not sure if her tomb effigy is contemporary, but in case it is:
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.
François’s ensemble seems inspired by this portrait:
I THINK this is Diane de Poitiers — anyone know?
The real Diane:
Assuming that is Eleanor, here’s the only contemporary image I can find of her in French dress:
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).
All the contemporary images of Gabrielle show her naked, which aren’t very helpful.
I wonder if they were inspired at all for her costume by this early 19th c. image?
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.
Sadly I can’t find any contemporary images of the real Léonard!
The real Rose Bertin:
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.
I’m guessing they were inspired by these two portraits of Marie-Antoinette during her imprisonment:
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.
I could point out a million differences, but I’ll try to keep it to a low roar:
Have you managed to make it through a Sacha Guitry historical film?