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Crying in the Chapel

Le Plaisir (1952) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Three of Guy de Maupassant's masterful short stories—the first, Le Masque, the 2nd, La Maison Tellier, the 3rd, Le Modèle—are narrated to us by the dead author (voiced by Jean Marais) in a spirit of intimacy as if he were sitting right next to us in a darkened theater (“en obscurité.”) “Ici la premier histoire” begins among the Parisian in-crowd at Le Palais de la Danse when a lean man, one Ambroise, “dressed like a dandy”, over­extends him­self on the dance floor resulting in a call to the doctor and an eventual call on his wife. The second takes place in Normandy, being the “story of a ‘house’” that had to turn away its regular clientele one night so the working girls could attend the madame's niece's first communion in the country. If at church they were “Nearer My God to Thee”, it was business as usual the next day. If in the second was seen “the merging of pleasure and purity”, and in the first, “of pleasure and love”, the third will be “pleasure and death” when an artiste tires of his model/lover.


Le Plaisir” is presented in the form of a triptych, one central story and two side panels, as it were. Since the movie is one continual motion, I like to think of it as the dog I saw in a pickup truck going down a busy road. First Fido would bark at the people on the port side, then he'd run over and bark at the starboard sights. The real action, though, was in the dog and the truck, the scenery flowing past being stationary.

The central story involved a communion service that started festive but ended somber (“The gaiety was held a bit in check after the morning.”) Gaiety is the noun form of the adjective gay that comes directly from the French gai. Here (in 1952) it meant excitedly happy as we saw “A wave of innocent joy swept through the house.” Another meaning is brightly colored, also played up in this story by the sales­man on the train displaying his ware of colorful garters matching the attire and features of the “Hussies”, and by the “fields covered with wild­flowers, the cart with flowers of a brighter hue, a dazzling cart of women.” And although its meaning has meandered some over time, in 1952 gay could have also meant licentious as was the sales­man and the brother-in-law with the “hussies.” In French gai can mean slightly inebriated as we might say "happy." The brother-in-law excuses him­self saying, “I was a little drunk and excited.”

The left side panel, the first story described Ambroise alternately as “a dandy” or “You rake, you.” Borrowing terminology from the second story, we could accurately peg him as a "gay blade", meaning "man-about-town" for his reputation of conquests. The meaning "licentious" of gay has shifted a bit through "socially offbeat" to its current sense of "stupid", as Kate explained youth lingo to Ben in the movie “Love Is Strange”: “He doesn't mean homo­sexual, Uncle Ben, he just means stupid.” In our third story a man marries a woman for “the same reason anyone marries: stupidity.” Theirs would be a "gay marriage" in the sense of a stupid one, not to be confused with "gay and lesbian marriage" of a later era.

Le Plaisir” seems directed at the need for "temperance" a fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Gal. 5:23. Temperance means moderation in thoughts, feelings and actions. The first story was about a man immoderate in his actions when he danced until he collapsed. The second story concerned moderation in feelings, in emotions. When the “hussies” on the train plucked up their courage to try on the sales­man's sample garters, they invited liberties when the train entered a tunnel. The niece Constance was for a time overly fearful (“J'ai peur”) about her upcoming first communion. Madame Rosa wept along with every­one else at the church service, which curtailed the afore­mentioned gaiety along the lines of, (James 4:8-10) “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.” And the third story focused on immoderate thought when the painter went over­board in his thinking about the mundane merits of a model.

Modern English Bibles tend to substitute the word self-control for temperance, perhaps to avoid confusing their readers who may think of the temperance movement concerning alcohol instead of its broader scope. But self-control has more to do with moderating one's actions than also his feelings and thoughts. “Elder Sophrony classified people into three categories” (28–29)

The overwhelming majority of people fit into the first category. Drawn to faith by a small measure of grace, they live their lives in a moderate effort to keep the commandments. …

To a second category belong those who, attracted by a relatively small degree of grace, yet zealously wrestle in prayer against the passions ….

In the third and rarer category belongs the man … of … ascetic path.

The ascetic probably wouldn't go to the movies to begin with. The one given to “zealously wrestle in prayer” will find much to commend this movie to under­standing moderation in its several spheres. The ordinary bloke who exerts but “a moderate effort to keep the command­ments” can find examples here of what happens when men take too many liberties with the “hussies.”

Production Values

Le Plaisir” (1954, USA) is an adaptation of three stories by renowned 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant—he helped father the modern short story. It was directed by Max Ophüls who with Jacques Natanson adapted it for screen. It stars Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, and Simone Simon. The prostitutes in the film pass for grandes dames, well educated, chic, a far cry from the sorry females in the original story. Films were not rated as such back then, but I see in Australia it's a PG if that helps. Seems about right to me. It's 97 minutes long in Black and White, with monaural sound. The camera work was astounding, with elaborate camera setups, excellent tracking shots, marvelous crane shots, dolly shots, and long takes. They had to change camera­man for the third story, though, and they lost their composer and had to use period pop music to finish with. The finale used a disposable crash camera after an invisible cut—you'll know when.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I appreciated this movie, being a reader open to a literary tempo with some narration. The stories seem to balance each other, and at a 1½ hr. run time, we haven't completely forgotten what came first. The director treated with tenderness what the original story­teller wrote with cynicism. It's amazing what they accomplished with primitive technology. Each story does well by its own merits. This movie succeeds with­out overt gimmicks. You may have trouble finding this old one, but it will be worth the effort.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children w/guidance. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Zacharias, Archimandrite. The Enlargement of the Heart (2Corinthians 6:13) “Be ye also enlarged”: in the Theology of Saint Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex. Edited by Christopher Veniamin. Dalton, PA: Mount Tabor Pub, 2012. Print.