January 5th, 2021

Ashi no tomodachi

The Right Heart for the Wrong Letters

Happy Twelfth Night, everyone. To mark the day, I thought I might watch a production of Shakespeare's play of the same name but instead I watched 1942's Lettres d'amour (Love Letters). Being a romantic comedy involving mistaken identity, economic class, and misdirected affections, it's not dissimilar to Shakespeare's play, and is a delightful film in its own right.

Set in the mid-19th century, the film stars Odette Joyeux as Zelie, the postmistress of a small town. Her friend is a wealthy aristocrat called Hortense, played by Simone Renant, who's just as beautiful as Joyeux.

Hortense is having an affair with a handsome young bureaucrat called Francois (Francois Perier) and receives love letters from him, written under the name "Hedgehog", secretly through Zelie. Only Zelie knows the secret and Hortense leads Zelie to believe the Hedgehog is an Imperial guard. So Zelie is without suspicion when Francois comes to town as the new district attorney.

Interwoven throughout the film is a complex courtroom drama involving tensions between the two town factions called the "Shop" and the "Society", or, working class and aristocracy. Zelie, as postmistress, belongs to the former but she's a widow with a large fortune. This seems to be what enabled her to become friends with Hortense. Francois finds himself charmed by Zelie's wit and enjoys quizzing her about his own love letters which she mistakenly believes came from an Imperial guard.

It's a fast moving, very sweet comedy about love and bureaucracy. It also has beautiful costumes designed by Christian Dior himself.

Lettres d'amour is available on The Criterion Channel.