Trop Belle Pour Toi Review
Bertrand Blier has frequently been labelled a misogynist for his bleak portrayal both of the actions of men against women or for their complete rejection of them. His previous film to Trop Belle Pour Toi was Tenue de Soiree in which gay Bob (Gerard Depardieu) stole Antoine (Michel Blanc) away from his marriage to Monique (Miou-Miou) but from much earlier in his career, it could be argued that Blier has used a succession of cliches to describe women - the frigid Marie-Ange (Les Valseuses) and Solange (Preparez vos Mouchoirs), the nymphomaniac Donatienne (Notre Histoire) and the precocious, 14-year-old Marion who forms a sexual relationship with her stepfather (Beau-Pere).
With Trop Belle Pour Toi, however, Blier, for the first time in his career, made women the focus of his writing and directing and critical and commercial success followed. Indeed, Trop Belle Pour Toi is likely to be the only film that British audiences will have heard of from Blier as those that he directed before and afterwards were undeniably more difficult and more likely to cause controversy, if not an uncomfortableness amongst female viewers. But with Trop Belle Pour Toi, all of Blier's views on love, sexuality and desire came together as they had not done so before and by a combination of a softening of his typically aggressive direction and the inclusion of two strong female characters, the film had an impact that little of his previous work had, deservedly finding success and helping to establish Gerard Depardieu outside of France.
Trop Belle Pour Toi stars Depardieu as Bernard, married to the beautiful Florence (Carole Bouquet) and together they have two children, the eldest of whom is writing an essay on Schubert, the Austrian composer. Bernard is the successful owner of a prestige car dealership, where the plain, dumpy Colette (Josiane Balasko) joins as his secretary. Soon, Bernard begins meeting Colette at a nearby hotel during their lunch hour, which leads to an affair that Florence, her friends and Colette's partner, Pascal (François Cluzet) all become aware of in time, something that Bernard's male friends, all of whom have desired Florence, cannot understand. This affair will tear these friendships apart but, still, Bernard and Colette continue their relationship.
Trop Belle Pour Toi is translated as Too Beautiful For You and even without seeing the film, a guess at the meaning of this title will imply that it refers to both Florence and Colette being too beautiful for Bernard, whose actions leave the two women alone during those times that he is with the other. In that sense and with a knowledge that Trop Belle Pour Toi was the most commercially successful of Blier's career, it implies that the film would also be the most straightforward of Blier's, given that he has shown a love of playing with the structure of a story, with time and disregarding prior events, all of which were in place in Notre Histoire, Buffet Froid and Tenue de Soiree.
Trop Belle Pour Toi is, however, little different to Blier's previous films in that respect and a little over two minutes in, Blier delivers his first breathtaking leap out of the narrative, showing Colette sitting on the bed in a motel room with Bernard emerging from the shadows at the entrance whilst Schubert builds on the soundtrack. Two minutes later, Blier jumps out of a dinner party at Bernard and Florence's house to show him undressing his wife in the garage at his car showroom, again with the use of Schubert making the scenes feel claustrophobic, showing that Bernard's love of both women is suffocating him and leaving him helpless. In that sense, Bernard does not choose to have an affair, simply that through desire and lust, he has little choice.
With such scenes in mind, Trop Belle Pour Toi, although arguably the most straightforward of Blier's films, should never be considered a simple pleasure. Instead, Blier takes unexpected turns with his cast, using the trio of Depardieu, Bouquet and Balasko to illustrate a series of steps in the relationships between Bernard and Florence and between Bernard and Colette. Blier also uses Trop Belle Pour Toi to open up the film up to include a more general view on the relationships between a man and his wife and between a married man and his mistress.
We see, therefore, Florence as classically beautiful but cold and brittle, even amongst her friends whilst Colette is dowdy but warm and loving. As Bernard and Colette begin their affair, Florence appears as an unattractive neighbour of Colette, still in mourning over her husband leaving her and carrying a telephone should he call. Then, as Bernard and Colette leave the city for her house in the country, they sit fussing over breakfast whilst an ageing and grey Colette wears a quilted nightgown as Bernard listens to the windows rattling from a passing TGV. At the same time, we see a loving, desirable Florence seducing Marcello, Bernard's fixer from early in his relationship with Colette.
The effect, rather than being confusing, is, as with many of Blier's films, dazzling, with Blier impressing not only with the beautiful cinematography but also with his structuring of the film in the manner of a relationship. Trop Belle Pour Toi is, therefore, thrilling and exciting at the start before settling into something comfortable and familiar in the middle, during which time Blier holds back on his typically frantic style, before ending on a heartbreaking moment in which all parties are left alone, thinking over what a life on their own might mean.
However, Trop Belle Pour Toi could not be titled as it is without showing the beauty that comes with a relationship. This is best shown by Colette moving through a subway station soon after leaving the bed that she shared with Bernard and although she is dressed in the same fuzzy jumpers and has the same sensible haircut that she has throughout the film, her warmth and subtle beauty shines. As she passes through the subway station, all of the men in the crowd stop and stare at her and, for the first time in the film, Colette allows herself to smile and, yes, she is beautiful. In that one scene, Blier, if not able to account of years in which he was labelled a misogynist, goes some way to making up for it.
In making Trop Belle Pour Toi, Blier changed direction and moved towards making women his central characters for his next three films - Merci, La Vie, Un, Deux, Trois Soleil and Mon Homme. It was Merci, La Vie that ushered in a working and personal relationship with Anouk Grinberg but it also marked a retreat from the warmth of Trop Belle Pour Toi. After all, the two female protagonists in Merci, La Vie, Camille and Joëlle, are as sexually aggressive, as violent and as confrontational as Les Valseuses' Jean-Claude and Pierrot and, from my own memory, those who had been impressed by the tone of Trop Belle Pour Toi found Merci, La Vie to be a difficult and uncomfortable film to watch, particularly in the way that it leaps between events and through time. Un, Deux, Trois Soleil has never been put before the BBFC given that they would request substantial cuts and Mon Homme is as much of a challenge as the fantasies from the era of Beau Pere and Preparez Vos Mouchoirs.
Blier, then, remains a difficult filmmaker and, sadly, his latest works have been criticised for presenting the director as recycling past ideas but Trop Belle Pour Toi is entirely free from such criticism. This is a wonderful movie, both for those familiar with Blier or not and represents a rare time in Blier's working life in which his stars aligned. Elsewhere, Blier can be a challenge and the charges of misogyny difficult to dismiss entirely but not where Trop Belle Pour Toi is concerned - this is simply a great film.
The cheapness of the DVD case and the print on the DVD would imply that this was going to be a shoddy transfer with a very soft picture and, whilst it is soft, Trop Belle Pour Toi is not cursed with a dreadful image. The source print is in fine condition, bitrate levels are good and colours, which is vital for a Blier film, are handled very well but the picture is soft, notably when the action moves to Colette's house in the countryside and detail is lost within shots of its surroundings.
The sound is fine with no noticeable defects to the soundtrack, which is hugely important given the part that the music of Schubert plays in the film with even the smallest of musical cues being essential to the story.
The soundtrack is in French and there is no option for a dubbed English soundtrack. The English subtitles are not fixed.
When the back of the DVD case lists 'Moving Menus' as an extra, you can be assured that you're not going to get very much else and Trop Belle Pour Toi only includes filmographies for Bertrand Blier, Depardieu, Bouquet and Balasko. But, yes, the menus do move.
I will happily admit that I follow few writers or directors with as much interest as I do Bertrand Blier simply because I find his films uncomfortable, difficult, challenging but always beautiful and the combination makes for wonderful cinema. Trop Belle Pour Toi is where all of Blier's ideas and his style of filmmaking comes together in an unforgettable film and whilst it may not have a DVD to match, this remains and will continue to be a classic of modern French cinema.