Prix de Beaute (1930)

“Don’t even dream of it.”

Prix de Beaute  (Miss Europe) was made as a silent film, and then dubbed in French in 1930–this explains why there’s not much dialogue, and the emphasis is still on facial expressions–and naturally that’s perfect for the diminutive, stormy Louise Brooks.

When the film begins, Lucienne–known as Lulu–is spending the day at a recreation area with her possessive boyfriend, Andre (Georges Charlia), and their mutual friend Antonin (Augusto Bandini). The very first glimpse of Lulu is a pair of legs–she’s sitting inside the car changing into her bathing suit. She emerges and enthusiastically performs several exercises in front of a group of fascinated young men. Andre, however, is not amused, and he barks orders that Lulu should return to his side and behave herself. This very first scene sets the tone of the rest of the film, and heralds future trouble between Lulu and Andre.

Lulu, Andre, and Antonin all work at the offices of a major Parisian newspaper–the Globe. Lulu is a typist–one of many who sit at desks and hammer out letters all day long. Andre and Antonin are both typesetters, but Antonin is also the object of everyone’s semi-hostile teasing. The Globe announces the search is on to discover the new Miss France, and that the winner will travel to Spain to compete in Miss Europe. Lulu considers applying–after all–it’s just as simple matter of submitting two photographs.

The film’s strongest scenes occur at the fairground. This is supposed to be an evening of fun for Lulu, Andre and Antonin, but Lulu feels alienated by the shoving crowd and her macho show-off boyfriend. Her expressions reflect her troubled thoughts. At this point, she realises that she’s not having a good time, and she never will have a good time unless she somehow manages to escape….

Lulu is a woman trapped in a man’s world, and the scenes of the beauty contest focus on the males in the audience. Prince de Grabovsky all but twirls his dapper little moustache and cackles lasciviously when he cast his eyes on the beauty queen. Some men watch the contest with monocles, others with binoculars–but they all remain fixated on the parade of bathing suit clad female flesh.

The Kino DVD offers a good print, but the film does seem to be sped up–although this is more noticeable in some scenes than others. For example, in one scene beauty contestants walk in front of a cheering crowd, and when the camera is solely focused on the action of the contestants walking across a stage, the incorrect speed is obvious. I haven’t seen the VHS tape version, so I cannot say how it compares to the DVD.

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