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Colombe (1960)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

After an absence of two years, Julien arrives at the theatre where his mother, the veteran actor Madame Alexandra, performs. He has brought his beautiful wife Colombe in the hope of asking his mother for support for her and their baby while he undertakes military service. Madame Alexandra, however, is not interested in her son and refuses to see him, preferring to spend her time bullying her fawning entourage and engaging in petty theatrical rivalries.

Julien's charming brother Paul - their mother's favourite - arrives and whisks Colombe into Madame Alexandra's dressing rooms for a perfunctory audience with the actor. Madame Alexandra insists that the playwright Robinet write a small part for Colombe in their current play so that she can be supported by a theatre wage. Colombe becomes very taken with the notion, particularly when she is dressed up in Madame Alexandra's fine jewellery.

Later, when both arrive early for rehearsal, Madame Alexandra reads Colombe's fortune, predicting that she will marry a rich man. Colombe is shocked as she is already married, but Madame Alexandra has no time for such concerns, having married for money numerous times.

Colombe is briefly left alone before the actor Largarde arrives and attempts to seduce her. He is interrupted by the theatre's manager, Desfournettes, who has a similar intention and offers Colombe a new spring dress. He, in turn, is supplanted by Robinet, who also attempts seduction, claiming to be infatuated. The men squabble over Colombe until Paul arrives and they depart. Paul has been tutoring Colombe in acting and under this pretence he succeeds in seducing her.

Weeks later, Julien, on 24 hours' leave from the army, unexpectedly returns. He has received a letter from Madame Alexandra's secretary Surette reporting Colombe's infidelity. He is unhappy to have found their baby left with neighbours while Colombe works at the theatre. Surette tells him that Colombe goes around with four men from the theatre - five, including the hairdresser. Julien is appalled. He surprises Colombe in her dressing room and is further displeased that she plans attending a dinner party rather than spend the evening at home with him.

A succession of Colombe's earlier suitors come to her dressing room door to warn her that her husband is to visit, each embarrassed on being caught in the act by Julien. He becomes furious with Colombe and demands to know which of the men is her lover. Colombe is upset to hear of the letter Julien received, but only further maddens him with her guesses at the identity of the author, which hint at her freewheeling social life.

After Julien has ejected both the dresser and the over-attentive hairdresser, he and Colombe are briefly reconciled. But Julien soon explodes into violent anger again and sets out to attack Desfournettes. He is confronted by his mother, who demands that Colombe be prepared for her stage entrance. While she is gone, Paul visits her dressing room carrying flowers. Julien confronts his brother, who confesses to being Colombe's lover. Julien is confused and distraught.

After the evening's performance, Julien tells Colombe that he will forgive her and they discuss their differences. It is plain that they were never suited to each other. He is puritanical and high-minded, she frivolous and hedonistic. She leaves for her dinner party. Surette attempts to console Julien with the story of his own failed marriage but Julien kicks him out. Madame Alexandra passes through but is unsympathetic to Julien's romantic allusions, telling him that Colombe no longer loves him.

Julien plays the theatre's piano and remembers how he and Colombe met. Colombe was a flower girl delivering a bouquet to Madame Alexandra, while Julien waited to see her. They quickly fell for each other. When Madame Alexandra and her staff arrived, they insisted on auditioning Colombe as a singer for their play. When Robinet tried to lift her skirt to expose her legs, Julien kicked him. Shocked by the troupe's conduct, Colombe turned her back on the theatrical world to run off to dinner with Julien.

Finishing his reverie, Julien sadly departs the silent theatre.