Bel Ami (1939)

Bel Ami
Director: Willi Forst
Writer: Hans Fritz Beckmann, Axel Eggebrecht, Willi Forst
Based on: Guy de Maupassant‘s novel
Cast: Willi Forst, Olga Tschechowa, Johannes Riemann, Ilse Werner, Hilde Hildebrand, Will Dohm, Lizzi Waldmüller, Marianne Stanior, Aribert Wäscher, Hubert von Meyerinck, Hans Stiebner
Seen on: 25.2.2021
[Here’s my review of the 2012 film.]

Content Note: colonialism, racism

Georges (Willi Forst) just returned to France after serving as a soldier in Algeria. Pretty much penniless, he tries to get by on his looks when he runs into an old colleague, Forestier (Will Dohm). Forestier invites Georges into his home, introduces him to his wife Madeleine (Olga Tschechowa) and several other influential people. Soon Georges’s luck is looking up, as he sleeps his way up the ladder: he starts an affair with Clotilde (Hilde Hildebrand) and works at the newspaper La Vie Française, though his articles are written by Madeleine who has her own goals.

Bel Ami wasn’t my cup of tea and probably the weakest of the Forst films I saw so far. Part of that reason was that Forst didn’t work for me as Georges. Another part was that I was a little (very) weirded out by the political angle here.

The film poster showing drawings of the main characters, above all Georges (Willi Forst) and the women around him.

I haven’t read Maupassant’s novel, and I only have a hazy memory of the 2012 movie version but I don’t remember it being so preoccupied with politics. Maybe I just forgot, or maybe that’s just part of this version. Either way, I was constantly taken aback by the way Algeria is talked about here. While it is debated how the French should fare with Algeria – leaving it to the Algerians or taking it for themselves, never once is it questioned that the French get to decide that in the first place. And so in the end, Algeria remains nothing but a money source for rich French people, and the Algerian delegates are racist stereotypes to say the least.

Not that the politics are really at the forefront here – they are a backdrop to Georges’s story. And Georges is just such an uninteresting character, I just didn’t care about him. And, much like with Robert Pattinson in the 2012 version, I just don’t see Willi Forst’s charm. Maybe if he was supersexy, the film would have worked for me, but I guess I’ll never know.

Forestier (Will Dohm) and his wife Madeleine (Olga Tschechowa)

That being said, Madeleine is the highlight of the film. She is a fascinating character and Tschechowa does a great job to make her both haughty and vulnerable. Should I ever decide to read the novel, it would be because of Madeleine.

But overall, I just found myself bored by this film and Georges, an unfaithful, opprtunistic sack of shit. I don’t see why I should want to spend so much time with or care what happens to him.

Georges (Willi Forst) surrounded by women.

Summarizing: shrug.

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