Two bodies are lying on the pavement, that of a man and that of a wooden mannequin dressed in a wedding dress, which he is embracing. A group of little girls surround the corpse. “He looks happy,” said one of them. The camera rises. Backtracking.
Falbalas is first and foremost the study of a very particular world. “I wanted to make a film about a frivolous environment like sewing, which I knew well, since my mother started her life there,” declared Jacques Becker in an interview given in 1954 to Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut for Cahiers du movie theater .
Philippe Clarence (Raymond Rouleau), famous Parisian stylist, prepares his summer collection. He hesitates, loses his temper, complains about the quality of the fabrics. He is surrounded by women: his partner Solange (Gabrielle Dorziat), Anne-Marie (Françoise Lugagne), a former mistress who is totally devoted to him, an army of workers led by Paulette (Jeanne Fusier-Gir).
Philippe Clarence is a seducer who, in a pure routine of lies and romantic stratagems, collects female conquests. The fiancée (Micheline Presle) of his friend Daniel Rousseau (Jean Chevrier) will therefore be one more prey. Until he discovers that he is madly in love with her.
Tinted with surrealism, between creative madness and amorous disorder, Jacques Becker’s third feature film is undoubtedly one of his films which will take to the highest level the filmmaker’s ability to move from one register to another, to deviate the meticulous psychological and social realism of the universe that he describes to shift into another dimension, a disturbing dreamlikeness, an everyday fantasy, a familiar strangeness.
This is how the description of a large sewing workshop, while it ignores the particular way of life of Parisians under the Occupation (restrictions and shortages), is intended to be as close as possible to the truth of human relationships and social. But it is the portrayal of the main character’s obsession which gives its full dimension to the story.
Abandoned by the one he loves, Philippe Clarence will focus his obsession on a wooden mannequin, with almost human features. He dresses him in the wedding dress made for the woman who rejects him, thus diverting a doomed love passion onto this fetish, before throwing himself into the void with him.
Some critics of the time regretted this change of register, which they described as “clumsily melodramatic” . However, there is an irruption of tragedy there which is also the painting of an astonishing neurosis. Doesn’t this necrophilic desire to model a dead object to revive the beloved woman announce the future ordeal of the hero of Vertigo (1958), by Alfred Hitchcock?