13 April 2021

Claude Autant-Lara's Le Diable au corps | The Devil in the Flesh (1949)

Claude Autant-Lara is not a name mentioned a great deal of late, possibly because of Truffaut's criticism, but far more likely because of his extreme right-wing views later in his life: earlier, he had had very left-wing ideas. Le Diable dans le corps is closely based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Radiguet (1923), and like this novel the film shocked. The novel, like the film, shocked because the story concerns a teenager who has an affair with a married woman and makes her pregnant.

For this reason too Autant-Lara's film shocked, although the director was noted for his desire to shock: the film also caused offense because of its apparent attitude towards war – both the film and the book are set in World War I and its immediate aftermath, and lycéen François (Gérard Philipe) auxiliary Marthe (Micheline Presle) have their relationship while her husband is called to the war.

The husband – whom Marthe was pushed into marrying by her parents – returns at the end of the war to his wife, who has just given birth to her and François's child. The only word she says before she dies is 'François', as her husband stands by the bed. François, of course, is not allowed to attend the funeral: Autant-Lara's film is also an attack on conventions, on the bien-pensant bourgeoisie.


Patrick Murtha said...

Micheline Presle played the “older woman” in 1949 and is still alive today, at age 98.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

And what's more, she was only older by months: she was 25 and Philipe 24! Many French people, of course, tend to go on for much longer than other nationalities, although Gérard Philipe died of cancer of the liver at a mere 36.