Concurrently a modernist fantasia and urban nightmare, Au Bonheur Des Dames focuses on the rivalry between a fast-rising department store, Ladies' Paradise, and a small mom-and-pop storefront across the street. A 20-year-old Dita Parlo (that vision of monochromatic beauty from Vigo's L'Atalante and Renoir's Grand Illusion) stars as the young woman caught between the two businesses. Arriving in Paris to work in her uncle's small fabric shop, Parlo finds the sky literally raining advertisements — planes overhead are dropping flyers for Ladies' Paradise. In an urban montage that rivals the surreal multiple-exposures of Murnau's Sunrise and Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Big City, Parlo is accosted by visual representations of the clamor and crowds of the metropolis, a sequence which culminates in the excessive splendor of Ladies' Paradise, a department store to end department stores. A palace of fast-moving crowds, shiny objects, grand staircases and sickeningly ornate architecture, the department store is a beastly manifestation of all of consumerism's grand promises.
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.