Sog.: dal romanzo L’Envers du music- hall di Colette. Scen.: Colette. F.: Roger Hubert. M.: Léonide Moguy. Scgf.: Jacques Gotko, Robert Gys. Mus.: Albert Wolff. Int.: Simone Berriau (Ludivine ‘Divine’ Jaris), Georges Rigaud (Antonin), Gina Manès (Dora), Philippe Hériat (Lutuf-Allah), Paul Azaïs (Victor), André Gabriello (Coirol ‘Néron’), Catherine Fonteney (madre di Ludivine), Yvette Lebon (Roberte). Prod.: Simone Berriau per Eden. 35mm. D.: 74’ (incompleto). Bn
One day during the coldest week of February, I was at the Billancourt studios, where fifty young women, half-naked, were filming music-hall scenes. For seven consecutive hours, sheltered under the heavy special makeup, they underwent the temperature extremes of a cloth-covered courtyard, iced by the east wind and then briefly overheated by a catastrophe of Klieg lights. Following Max Ophüls’ quick commands, they climbed up and down the raw wood steps unprotected by guard rails, running and turning with inexhaustible grace. A terrible arrow of light pierced in passing Simone Berriau’s golden eyes and Gina Manès’ phosphorus-blue ones. Philippe Hériat, nude and chromed, shuddered with cold and refused the robe that would have tarnished his metallic makeup. No starving extras permitted herself to faint. At a cry from Ophüls – “We can hear the feet on the stairs! Take off your shoes!” – fifty young women, Simone Berriau among them, took off their shoes without a word and ran barefoot on the unfinished wood, among serpentining cables, metal shavings, rubble, and nails.
This was the same day on which the hands of an animal trainer were to drape over Simone Berriau’s shoulders a live python, almost heavy as a man…
Colette, Acteurs de cinéma, “Sélection de la vie artistique”, 30 March 1935, transl. in Colette at the Movies: Criticism and Screenplay, edited by Alain and Odette Virmaux, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York 1980
According to the opening credits, Divine, directed by Max Ophüls, is the “first screenplay written specifically for the cinema with dialogue by… Colette [of the sound era].” The film is based on one of her literary works. L’Envers du music-hall (I retroscena del music-hall, 1913), a moving choral fresco about the music hall comprised of sequences detailing numerous individual stories provides the frame. The novella Divine supplied the film with its protagonist who has the a body of both a Goddess and a peasant and who is played by Simone Berriau (who also served as producer and who made her country estate available for the exteriors).
Like Ophüls, Colette is particularly inclined to observe the actor’s physical aspect. In many ways, Divine anticipates Lola Montès, with its woman exposed and ‘violated’ by show business. This is a familiar context for a writer who for many year sated public curiosity by performing as a ballerina and mime and who conveyed the essence of that experience in her many eloquent writings.
Divine concludes with an extremely ambiguous happy-ending that highlights the understanding that existed between screenwriter and director. Colette and Ophüls both conceive of the union of man and woman as a loss. Neither see marriage as a real solution. The director underlines this visually by placing the final nuptials behind a grate, but Colette had already affirmed the same thing in La Vagabonde, where the protagonist (again a music hall actress) rejects bourgeois marriage at the last minute.
This film by Max Ophüls is, therefore, in many ways also a film by Colette – and this fact has long been overlooked.