20 December 2021

Germaine Dulac's La Souriante Madame Beudet | The Smiling Madame Beudet (1923)

Germaine Dulac's silent avant-garde movie La Souriante Madame Beudet is seen by many critics as the first explicit feminist film, and the title is distinctly ironic.

Madeleine Beudet (Germaine Dermoz) lives in a provincial town with her husband (played by Alexandre Arquillière), who is a grotesque merchant draper in the Beudet et Labas firm. Beudet lives for money, his wife for culture. In spite of her physically comfortable bourgeois existence she is bitterly miserable and a number of images, such as a tennis player whisking her husband away or the vision of a handsome man: a fantasy or a memory – appear as images or superimpostions in the film to reveal her state of mind.

Three particular lines from Baudelaire's 'La Mort des amants' strike her. They are from Les Fleurs du mal, and from the first stanza of the poem, which was incidentally one of Les Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire which Debussy used as song and piano melodies:

'Nous aurons des lits pleins d'odeurs légères,

Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux,

Et d'étranges fleurs sur des étagères 


The Beudets have been invited to the theatre to see Faust, although Madeleine (imagining her husband as Mephistopheles) refuses and while she is alone she loads Baudet's gun which he frequently plays with, pretending to kill himself. But she is stricken with remorse and sees images of the court. But before she can retrieve the gun and unload it Baudet has hold of it, and, thinking of course that it is empty, points it at Madeleine and fires. Fortunately he hits the wall, but his stupidity (and his egotism) lead him to believe that it was his wife who sought to kill herself. Return to normality.

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