In 1975, Claude Chabrol made two successive films that related to infidelity. The first of the two, “Une partie de plaisir” [Eng. Titles: A Piece of Pleasure, Pleasure Party], concerns Philippe – a pseudo-liberal, whose ego and controlling behaviour will lead to his own spectacular downfall.
The film opens with a clichéd scene of an idyllic family holidaying by the sea – Philippe (played by Paul Gégauff, writer and long-time Chabrol collaborator) and Esther (Danièle Gégauff), accompanied by sunny skies and classical music score, steal some intimate moments between playing with their young daughter Elise (Clémence Gégauff). The above cast, as one might have guessed, were family in real-life too, a fact that Chabrol exploits, to explore tensions that could arise from a shift in a relationship’s delicate equilibrium. Philippe suffers from a bloated sense of self-importance, and an intellectual, social, and even racial superiority over Esther and their friends, something Esther herself may have unwittingly contributed to, through her obedience and dependence towards him, not to mention her ‘girlie’ fears and inhibitions – he is always ‘the man’ when it came to handling those creepy crawlies.
Philippe, so sure of his control over Esther, initiates this shift by casually letting her know that he’d had a number of sexual affairs, and that in order to enjoy being in love even after eight years together, she too should consider having the odd fling, “like having the occasional cigarette or drink”, as he puts it. Surprisingly, Esther takes him up on that offer at one of their frequent country-home parties, and spends the night with Habib (Giancarlo Sisti), a friend’s friend, in the family home itself, leaving Philippe to lie in bed alone and overhear their conversation and sex with a tinge of jealousy. It’s plain to see that he’s failed miserably in practising his own philosophy, and he will mask his anger through frequent taunts at Esther’s choice of lover – a foreigner of lower birth and silly left-wing ideals, proclaiming that she neither has the wisdom nor class in choosing a lover worthy of the tutelage in life that he’d given her. But to his discomfort, the more Esther meets and socialises with others, the less she would depend on him. Philippe obviously misses lording over Esther – being her teacher, mentor, and master, and because of that, will act and behave in an increasingly abusive manner towards her. Chabrol pulls no punches in depicting his protagonist’s abominable character at its ugliest.
When Esther has had enough and decides to leave him, Philippe meets and wastes little time in marrying Sylvia (Paula Moore) – almost a stranger, but he’s put off once he gets to know her a bit better; there is apparently very little power he could possibly wield over Sylvia – she is already a successful and confident woman, independent both intellectually and economically. Philippe pines for the old Esther once again – fragile, meek, and impressionable. Only this time, Esther isn’t too keen…
The film is essentially about an egotistical and patently flawed man, who can’t see another person, let alone his life partner, as an equal – he will use class, race, and upbringing as tools to undermine and control her. As beautiful is the film’s cinematography and other technical merits, none among the main cast were professional actors – Danièle Gégauff did go on to act in a few films after this, and Paul Gégauff was essentially a writer, but the way Chabrol saw it, it wasn’t that relevant, as he was more interested in exploring the real-life couple’s changing chemistry and what they brought to his subject. It is nevertheless an elegant film from Chabrol that’s Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon Box-Set Link [PAL]
This value box-set is my recommended choice, Pleasure Party sits alongside an eclectic mix of six films by Chabrol – all memorable.
The Nudity: Cécile Vassort, Danièle Gégauff, and Paula Moore
The most noteworthy nudity in the film is from Cécile Vassort, who plays a voluptuous thirty-something Annie, belonging to Philippe and Esther’s circle of friends. There is a long scene of her knicker-less in bed with Philippe, gently mocking him for not being able to perform on the occasion – understandable, after his brief conversation with Esther on his way to join Annie. Esther had asked Philippe, since he was going to be with Annie, if she could sleep with Habib instead. There is brief nudity from Danièle Gégauff when Philippe visit’s Habib’s flat to fetch a reluctant Esther hiding under the sheets. Paula Moore also briefly appears nude when her character is woken up by a drunk Philippe.