In Camille (1936) directed by George Cukor, Marguerite is a courtesan that meets the love her life in the wrong time – she has debts to pay, and a wealthy baron is willing to help her as long as she is with him. The author E. Ann Kaplan, in the book Women and Film — Both Sides of the Camera (1983), analyzes this film in its different perspectives: sexuality, social chain and psychological aspect of the character.
As it was said in the discussion in class, at first, Camille might not be evident about Marguerite’s profession as a prostitute. However, as it is further analyzed, for a film made in the 30s it is obvious. Even though there are not any explicit sex scenes, the baron uses Marguerite for his pleasure and keeps a cold relationship with her. It is also clear that Marguerite uses the baron for her personal financial needs, mainly to pay her debts. The confusion on whether the protagonist is indeed a prostitute or not can also come from the way she gets paid. It is evident that someone has the job when there is sex scenes followed by the men paying women, but in Camille, this is not the case. It is done in a more sophistic way with the wealthy baron “helping” her with her financial needs. Despite this, there is also another scene that confirms once again Marguerite’s courtesan statute. At the beginning of the film, she meets a man, Armand, with which she has undeniable chemistry. They both fall in love and attempt to live together but, considering her past (and courtesan reputation), his father “politely” asks her to leave his son alone. Instead of being honest, she tells Armand she does not love him anymore. After the abrupt breakup, they see each other at a social event, and Armand proceeds to throw money at her. This scene is one of the most intense scenes in all the film, not only because it is the confirmation of Marguerite’s statute but also due to the vivid exposure of Armand’s feelings – he feels just like another of her clients.
A different approach to Camille’s analyzes is the psychological impact the courtesan life had on her and the way she valorizes herself. It is apparent that she is hard on herself and punishes her regularly. For example, when Armand’s father, Mr. Duval, asks her to leave his son alone, instead of fighting for their relationship, she accepts it and pretends she is not in love with him. In Women and Film — Both Sides of the Camera, Kaplan compares this self-sacrifice with Freud’s idea of mechanism of melancholia. It says, “instead of deflecting outward her hatred of Duval for his role in separating her from Armand, she turns the anger in upon herself…” (47) She sacrifices her happiness because that is what is supposedly expected from a woman, especially in the 30s. For the same reason, Camille can be interpreted as a movie to reach men’s expectations. It objectifies a woman and keeps her from being truly happy not to jeopardize the man’s happiness. Even though the end of the movie reunites her with her lover, it is impossible to live happily with him due to her deathly disease. Marguerite is never the winner in this story, even if sometimes it feels like she is in charge of her actions.
Camille is an interesting movie that approaches prostitution in a different aspect. When most movies tend to show what this profession consists on, in Camille it shows the impact it has on someone’s psychological. Marguerite is a woman that does not valorize herself. It is not clear if it comes from her personality or shame for having this social statute, but it keeps her from being happy and makes her feel that she deserves love and respect from a man.
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