Scen.: Albert Valentin, Charles Spaak. F.: Charles Bauer, Paul Cotteret. M.: Christian Gaudin. Scgf.: Guy de Gastyne. Mus.: Paul Durand. Int.: Albert Préjean (Albert Maulette), Claude Génia (Hélène), Yolande Laffon (Gabrielle de Lormel), Aimé Clariond (signor de Lormel), Hélène Constant (Denise), Jean Servais (il generale), Claude Nollier (Aline), Julienne Paroli (contessa de Merly), Maurice Escande (conte de Boieldieu), Roger Karl (Gaëtan de Merly). Prod.: Alfred Greven per Continental Films. DCP. Bn. D.: 93’
La Vie de plaisir was produced by the notorious German-owned film production company Continental Films and was the last of their films released before the Liberation of Paris on 16th May 1944. Written by talented Belgian screenwriter Charles Spaak together with Belgian filmmaker Albert Valentin, this sharp criticism of French high society created a stir in the collaborationist press. Ironically, it fared no better with the Resistance and was banned after the war. The unjustly forgotten Valentin paid a heavy price during the professional ‘purification’ process: he was banned from the industry until 1948. Funnily enough, Spaak and Valentin were responsible for the script of Grémillon’s Le Ciel est à vous (The Woman Who Dared) which was singled out by the clandestine Resistance press as the most glowing example of pro-French picture with high moral values. Arguably, La Vie de Plaisir is Valentin’s masterpiece thanks to its Pirandellian structure and witty dialogue. Continental productions didn’t have to comply with Vichy censorship, hence the incredibly ferocious depiction of an aristocratic family motivated by greed and hypocrisy. Adding insult to injury, the film’s real hero is a night club owner played by Albert Préjean who appears like a paragon of virtue. Beyond the social message, this comedy of divorce is beautifully performed by a stellar cast of French supporting actors such as Aimé Clariond, Maurice Escande and Roger Karl who play to the hilt corrupt aristocrats. Using multiple flashbacks, Valentin shows also an incredible flair with elegant camera movements that would not be out of place in the best Hollywood comedies. Yet a mystery remains to this day how Claude Génia, who had Russian Jewish origins, managed to be the lead actress in a picture produced by the Germans. Like many Continental films, La Vie de plaisir is a showcase for its talented French technical staff whom in spite of heavy shortages managed to make fluid and elegant entertainment in extreme conditions.