Clair's engaging fantasy stars Philipe as a frustrated young composer who escapes from poverty, noise and failure into dreams of la belle époque, where his music is the talk of the Paris Opéra, and a lovely married woman (Carol, in reality mother of one of his pupils) melts in his arms. But old men lamenting, first that the real belle époque was 1830, then 1789, drive his dreams back in time to military conquest and an exotic princess (Lollobrigida, in reality the cashier in the local café), then to revolutionary fervour and the love of a pretty aristocrat (Vendeuil, in reality the girl next door). At the risk of seeming scrappy (a risk not always avoided), his fantasies obey dream logic by arbitrarily chopping, changing and melting into each other; but they are often witty (nightmarishly, his opera turns into a symphony for motor horns, pneumatic drills and vacuum cleaners), and they borrow an overall structure from Griffith and Intolerance (building to simultaneous perils from a jealous husband's duelling pistol, from harem scimitars, and from the guillotine). The trouble with the film is that its reality, pretty much duplicating the cosily antiquated world of Le Million, is in itself a dream: all too predictably, love and success await the dreamer.
Les Belles de nuit
Cast and crew