The novel/play by Alexandre Dumas Fils LA DAME AUX CAMELIAS has attracted a lot of artists. Verdi wrote his opera LA TRAVIATA basing its content on this play. The film industry have also made a lot of adaptations of the play from the period of silent era up till modern times. However, if one hears a movie title CAMILLE, what usually comes to one's mind is the film by George Cukor with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. Why? There is something magical about this version that made it stand a test of time, something that helped it be appreciated for almost seven decades. Is it performances, cinematography, or Garbo's presence that make it so enchanting to watch? The answer is not so easy because the movie is a masterpiece of beauty at multiple levels.
The performances are absolutely outstanding. It is difficult to say if Garbo gives her best performance in CAMILLE or GRAND HOTEL. I think that it is more a matter of personal preferences. One thing is sure - she does something more than acting. She totally feels the role, every movement, every gesture is extremely natural as if you were watching reality not a movie. As a result, Garbo achieves something really outstanding in CAMILLE, some kind of the ultimate masterpiece of performance. Robert Taylor very well fits to the role of Armand Duvall. He manages to stress the most important feature of his role - delicacy and sincerity. Henry Daniell is a perfect choice for Baron De Varville - cruel, unemotional, cynical, and very selfish. I shall never forget the scene when Marguerite plays a lyrical piece on the piano expecting Armand's visit. However, it is Baron who comes unexpectedly. While Armand is trying to get to the house, Baron plays the piano and Marguerite has to behave as if she wasn't expecting anyone. The scene ends with hysterical laughter of them both and a magnificent acting. Laura Hope Crews also gives a lovely performance as Prudence Duvernoy stressing her frivolity and extravagance. Consider her performance at the party at the mansion. Yet, Lionel Barrymore, though not given much time on screen, is memorable, particularly in the scene of his meeting with Marguerite. What a lovely presentation of two different world views! Not a better or a worse view but DIFFERENT views - Marguerite attached to love and emotions and Monsieur Duval to social ties and reputation.
The cinematography is superb. Almost each scene has a "soul" which makes watching the movie a real admiration of beauty. The most memorable decorations are in the scene in a candle-lit boudoir filled with delicate lighting and shadows. Marguerite is looking at her reflection in the mirror and suddenly notices Armand from behind. A delicate classic musical piece is being played in the background. UNFORGETTABLE! The film's gorgeous imagery is a very strong point for the movie.
Perhaps, you will wonder why I praise this movie so much. But if you asked me if I can ever forget CAMILLE, my answer would be "never" because the imagery of this movie and the effect it has on a viewer is endless. How is it possible to forget a beautiful scene of Marguerite's first meeting with Armand? Is it also possible to skip a lovely idyllic pastoral sequence with sheep and flowering trees? How to forget a touching moment when Gaston, Marguerite's true friend, is putting a beautiful bunch of camellias at her side while she is lying ill in bed? Finally, the touching final shot and Marguerite's beautiful words that I entailed at the beginning of my review. These words, which purely refer to spiritual love, are the last words that Marguerite says.
Yes, CAMILLE is a masterpiece, one of the very few movies that promotes real beauty. It is not only a tearjerker. It is not only a story of love. It is a movie that teaches high respect for precious values in life. 10/10!