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December 13, 2022

Two Films by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze

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The Immoral Moment / La Denonciation
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze - 1962

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A Game for Six Lovers / L'eau a la bouche
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze - 1960
Icarus Films Home Video DVD All Regions

It has been a short while since it was announced that Chantal Akerman's film, Jeanne Dielman had topped the recently released Sight and Sound critics poll. I would not mention that film except that it turns out that Jacques Doniol-Valcroze had a small role as the Second Caller.

Having two new 2K restorations of features written and directed by Doniol-Valcroze is a reminder of the work to be done to have a deeper and truer understanding both of French cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. While Andre Bazin is the name that always appears, it was Doniol-Valcroze who was a co-founder of Cahiers du cinema. His first feature, A Game for Six Lovers was released in 1960, but as a filmmaker, Doniol-Valcroze never became as internationally celebrated as the younger film critics who also made their feature debuts at that time. I could find no indication that A Game for Six Lovers even had a stateside release, while The Immoral Moment had a belated U.S. release by a very small distributor in 1967.

The Immoral Moment is closer to the work of Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais as a film about memory. Michel steps into a nightclub that is still dark, yet to be opened. There is a dead man on the floor. A couple of people step in from a lit hallway on one end, with another man entering from the opposite direction. Michel is knocked unconscious. The cops and the actual murderer and associates know that Michel did not kill the man, yet Michel receives threatening letters in spite of the fact he cannot identification of the killer. Michel tries to remember the moments before he was struck in the head. He also ties his cooperation with the police, or collaboration as he puts it, with a wartime incident when he provided information to the Nazis under threat of continued torture.

Doniol-Valcroze cuts between present day Paris and Michel's memory of being a prisoner, ending with his mistakenly acclaimed as a hero of the French Resistance. Michel returns to the nightclub which features women in various states of undress, imagining his wife as one of the performers. The film was shot in the CinemaScope ratio with Doniol-Valcroze frequently placing his actors on either side of the screen, including traveling shots following the actor. While stars Maurice Ronet and Francoise Brion may be familiar to some, the most recognizable actor here is a younger Michael Lonsdale, the future James Bond villain, Hugo Drax, of Moonraker.

A Game for Six Lovers has a few bits of business to distinguish itself from some of the bedroom farces of the time. Two estranged cousins, Fifene and Jean-Paul, are invited to a country estate for the reading of a will and a possible inheritance. Jean-Paul is delayed, and Robert, Fifene's lover, shows up pretending to be the male cousin. Their hostess, Milena, and her lawyer, Miguel, are sometimes lovers. The estate's majordomo, Cesar, pursues the new maid, Prudence. This is the kind of film that was popular in the early 1960s in the art theater circuit because it was considered racier than anything from Hollywood, although it would be rated PG-13 now.

The film begins with the title song from Serge Gainsbourg who also wrote the music, sort of jazzy soft rock. Top billed Bernadette Lafont, as the new maid, suggests sauciness even when motionless in close-up. In one scene, she is chased by the insistent majordomo, ripping off her clothing, leaving Lafont, seen from a distance, in bra and panties. The Canadian actress Alexandra Stewart provides moments of partial nudity in bed as well as a nude swim. This is not a film for those who get worked up about the male gaze. The French title translates literally as "water of the mouth", and more loosely as "mouth watering".

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 13, 2022 07:11 AM