Directed by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze • Drama • With Bernadette Lafont, Françoise Brion • 1960 • 84 minutes
One of the founders of the epochal film magazine Cahiers du cinema, and therefore a prime mover of the French New Wave, Doniol-Valcroze joined all the upstart critics making films in the late ‘50s-early 60s with this decadent debut, a cynical drama about upper-class indolence and betrayal. The game-players in question, arriving at a spectacular villa for the reading of a matriarch’s will, include guileless city girl Milena (Francoise Brion), her lawyer ex-boyfriend Miguel (Gerard Barray), and her long-unseen cousins, Fifine (Alexandra Stewart) and Jean-Paul (Jacques Riberolles) – except Jean-Paul is actually Fifine’s boyfriend Robert, passing himself off as a member of the family. The couple maintains an open “arrangement,” and so the gathering becomes a rondo of duplicity, swapped partners, and heartbreak.
The third couple is the satyric butler (Michel Galabru) and the new chambermaid he hires (Bernadette Lafont), expecting her to be an easy sexual conquest. Doniol-Valcroze conducts this circus with a restrained hand, lending what could’ve been either a tragic art film or a fizzy comedy the tempered air of emotional realism. Less reserved is the house itself, the Chateau d’Aubiry in the south of France, which dominates every frame like an extravagant seventh character, and the boppy soundtrack by Serge Gainsbourg, the title tune of which was his first hit.