A Journey Through The Eclipse Series: Sacha Guitry’s Quadrille

In the heart of Paris, that most romantic of all cities, a whirlwind love affair erupts, with life-changing consequences for everyone it touches. Long dialogues take place in a hotel, as the lovers circle around the subject at hand, conscious of the inevitable, yet stringing each other along as they take their place in the ever-unfolding parry and thrust between the sexes. Obsessions with Hollywood movie stars, a media spotlight focusing on the New York Herald, ruminations on the fickleness and ephemeral nature of love, the strategic use of aliases, a playful splash of fashion, plenty of smoking, wit and Gallic savoir faire… If you think I’m talking about Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, you could be right, but in this case, I’m not. Or only, half-not, since I’m building the basis for my latest pet theory, an attempt (perhaps) to establish myself as the most avant of today’s avant garde in the world of online movie blogging – as I assert the theory that, contrary to all other established notions regarding the purpose and meaning of A bout de souffle, what Godard was really up to was nothing more or less than paying tribute to Quadrille, a hastily cranked-out commercial vehicle that Sacha Guitry offered the world in 1937, after he realized that there was good money to be made by just putting himself and his friends up on screen and doing what came so naturally to them. The film is part of Eclipse Series 22: Presenting Sacha Guitry.

As the credits make unmistakably clear, Sacha Guitry was the driving creative force behind what we see here. As a film, Quadrille isn’t really anything all that special, when compared to the much more imaginative and cinematically engaging The Story of a Cheat and The Pearls in the Crown. Those two films are, by any reasonable standard, required viewing before one ventures into either this film or Desire, the other film found in this set. As the liner notes so aptly put it, Quadrille is your standard comedic “door slammer,” good for some laughs and wistful pangs of recognition for those a bit more experienced in the ups and downs associated with monogamy. But while it may trigger its share of chuckles from those who watch it without a prior acquaintance with Guitry, I think viewers who appreciate it most will be those who’ve already been drawn into his world and become fans of his wizened wit and wordplay (even if it’s only second-hand, through the subtitles.)

What drew me to choose this particular film for my weekly leg on the journey through the Eclipse Series were the remarkable surface similarities to Godard’s Breathless, since that film was the focus of my attention on my Criterion Reflections blog over this past week. So, all kidding aside re: what I stated above, here are a few images that help establish the argument that your friend and mine, the equally esteemed and reviled JLG, was not simply rebelling against the mainstream “cinema of quality” when he set down his critic’s hat and took on the role of l’Auteur. He was, indeed, paying his due respects to polymath geniuses such as Monsieur Guitry, and vying to establish his own place among the ranks of Venerable Old Men of the Cinema.

So here’s where I lay the foundation of my case. Note the obvious quotes from Guitry’s work of 1937 and what Godard and crew filmed in the summer of 1959, starting with the newspaper shots of their handsome leading men…

… the charismatic impish grins they each flash in early and pivotal establishing scenes…

… a generous flash of hunky skin to woo the women (and men, too, if they admire that sort of thing)…

Can it be a mere coincidence that both Guitry and Godard featured double portraits of their leading ladies?

And we are in Paris, after all, so a bit of a fashion show is only to be expected…

…including the very latest and most stylish of headpiece adornments…

… not to mention that appalling but oh-so-boisterous French habit of flinging matches and expired cigarette butts across the room, oblivious to where they may land, after they’ve served their purpose!

We see that both Guitry and Godard are willing to venture into slightly kinky territory as they both include scenes where the female protagonist risks choking at the hands of the male lead…

… and the progression from the threatened slap that Sacha raises against his girlfriend-of-the-moment comes to full fruition, though with reversed gender roles, when Patricia smacks Michel full on the chops when his friskiness crosses the line of propriety.

Of course, with all due respect to the conventions of r0mance and the eternal folly of lovers, we must have a full-framed classic kiss!

And there’s nothing quite like full-on eye contact to transmit the heat of passion that (hopefully) we’ve all felt from time to time in our lives, that supplies the crucial connection point between ourselves and the hot rush of emotions that drive both Quadrille and Breathless.

Where Quadrille begins, with a scene of Carl Herickson running away from the audience, en route to highly anticipated amorous adventures, Breathless ends, with the immortal shot of Michel Poiccard staggering to his final, nauseating demise. Perhaps these visual quotes aren’t quite enough to convince you of my half-baked theory of Godard’s inspiration. But if they provide a few minutes amusement and diversion, I am content to know that they served their purpose. See them both, I assure you that they will reward your investment of time.

David Blakeslee

David hosts the Criterion Reflections podcast, a series that reviews the films of the Criterion Collection in their chronological order of release. The series began in 2009 and those essays (covering the years 1921-1967) can be found via the website link provided below. In March 2016, the blog transferred to this site, and in August 2017, the blog changed over to a podcast format. David also contributes to other reviews and podcasts on this site. He lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan and works in social services. Twitter / Criterion Reflections

Just Announced from Criterion

This Month from Criterion

Last Month from Criterion

Home Video Resources

Criterion UK

Grasshopper Films

Second Run UK