Archive for the ‘French cinema’ Category

The Thirties saw two films with hotel as a metaphor for a
world, where tangled destinies of disparate characters were  unraveled as events,- hyperinflation in Germany or the Munich crisis, were deciding the fate of Europe. Destinies of minorities, gypsies, Jews were affected from many chains of events as we look back, but the world goes on as though none  the wiser. In a way as Lewis Stone rightly observed in Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel(1932),‘People come and go. Nothing ever happens”. … Vicky Baum’s book dealt with a world coming to grips with post World War-I, economic chaos and its corrosive toll on moral values. The characters of Preysing (Wallace Beery), the textile magnate, and Flaemmchen(Joan Crawford), the stenographer were drawn from real life. The Grand Hotel is where for the magnate money brought pleasure whereas for Flaemmachen had no choice since she had no money or prospects. The second film was made close to another world war and was set in a hotel that had none of the pretensions of the Berlin Hotel.
Marcel Carnés film Hôtel du Nord derives its power partly from the events that broiled from across the border. The story is simple enough.  A pair of lovers Renée (Annabella) and Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont ), checks in a seedy hotel and their destinies are tangled literally with the lives of a pimp  Monsieur Edmond (Louis Jouvet) and his protégé Raymonde (Arletty) . Edmond has cheated some on a previous deal and he is there under an assumed name. Unknown to him two of his former accomplices are waiting to come in. Considering the timing of this film these two are allegorical of the Nazis who were to burst into the French national life. They also had some perceived grudge for the loss of the previous war.
Carné films, his style
‘The film of Hôtel du Nord was inspired by a book written in 1928 by Eugène Dabit, a gifted young writer who died in 1936 in tragic and mysterious circumstances. Dabit’s L’Hôtel du Nord is a collection of anecdotes about a hotel’s motley collection of working-class residents and its neighbourhood, and a tribute to Dabit’s parents who owned the real Hôtel du Nord. Awarded the Prix populiste in 1929, it records and celebrates the ‘little people’ of this north-eastern Parisian area. Carné kept both the location and the characters (using some of their names)’ (Ginette Vincendeau /bfi sight &sound) .
This is second in the trilogy of Carne’s films of which the last Le Jour Se Lève (1939) embodied his characteristic style to perfection. The other film is Le Quai des Brumes (1938).
His themes invariably set in a situation where ‘characters can only escape through death – their entrapment is emphasised by the narrow rooms they occupy, the walls and the frames that hold them isolated from the flow of life that goes on in their humdrum ways. As in Le Jour Se Lève for Gabin the window that looks out is only a slice of sky from which sunset and sunrise are only mournful chimes of time with a reminder of approaching death.  In such a doomladen set, music adds to the feeling of isolation. As a counterpoint dialogue must serve the viewer to catch on the cadences and poetry of spoken lines lest he cave under the incubus of  hopelessness. It was on this aspect we feel the absence of  Jacques Prévert whose script always made the film get under your skin (Le Jour Se Lève, Les Enfants du Paradis).
‘All of his great virtues are here: the cramped interiors broken up by gliding, complex, delicious camera movements; a melancholy deployment of light and shade; remarkable, wistful sets by Alexander Trauner, which are so evocative that they, as the title suggests, take on a shaping personality of their own; the quietly mournful music of Maurice Jaubert; a seemingly casual plot about romance, tragedy and fatalism that casts a noose over its characters; extraordinary performances by some of the greatest players of all time, in this case Louis Jouvet and Arletty’(Darragh O’ Donoghue –imdb user comment)

The film was studio bound since the traffic on the St Martin canal could not be stopped for several weeks.  A visual motif makes the film’s fixed in the mind by use of water – the credits float and dissolve, the hotel stands by a waterway. St. Martin Canal is thus connected to the film, which must explain why Hotel Du Nord has been declared as a national monument.
The set is plainly artificial, yet still a microcosm of Paris which we enter with the young couple, the camera following them down the side of the bridge. A reverse of this movement takes us out at the end of the film. The film begins as it ends, and the setting never changes, except for one brief interlude where Edmond and Pierre are out, one is sent to gaol and another wants to make a new beginning.

‘Quai de Jemmapes, on the banks of Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, 1938. As the residents of the family-run Hôtel du Nord celebrate a first-communion lunch, a young couple named Renée and Pierre arrive, planning a double suicide. Pierre wounds Renée. Unable to kill himself, he escapes into the night and gives himself up.

Local pimp Edmond finds and keeps Pierre’s gun. To Edmond’s delight, the benevolent hotel managers the Lecouvreurs take Renée in as a maid although his partner, the prostitute Raymonde, is not pleased. Other residents include Prosper, whose wife Ginette is having an affair with Kenel. Renée visits Pierre in prison, but he rejects her.

Two crooks come looking for Edmond, who betrayed them when he was their accomplice. Raymonde covers up for him. Renée and Edmond elope to Marseilles en route to Port-Saïd, but Renée runs back to the hotel. Raymonde is now with Prosper. When the crooks return, she betrays Edmond. During the celebrations on Bastille Day, Edmond reappears…’ (Ginette Vincendeau /bfi sight &sound).
‘The film’s sardonic ending is probably the best of any of Carné’s films.  Maurice Jaubert’s music for the open-air ball heightens the tension to an almost unbearable pitch as fate takes its cruel, unavoidable course.  Unlike in many of Carné’s subsequent films, the tragic conclusion of the Hôtel du Nord does not feel contrived or laboured – if anything, it is understated.  Yet its impact is immediate and shocking, like a bullet straight through the heart’ (filmsdefrance,James Travers-2001).

Memorable quote: Raymonde: Atmosphere, atmosphere, est-ce que j’ai une gueule d’atmosphere?(loosely translated,’Nobody is perfect.’

* Director: Marcel Carné
* Script: Jacques Prévert, Jean Aurenche, Henri Jeanson, based on the novel by Eugène Dabit
* Photo: Armand Thirard
* Music: Maurice Jaubert
* Cast: Annabella (Renée), Jean-Pierre Aumont (Pierre), Louis Jouvet (Monsieur Edmond), Arletty (Raymonde), Paulette Dubost (Ginette), Andrex (Kenel), André Brunot (Émile Lecouvreur), Henri Bosc (Nazarède), Marcel André (Le chirurgien), Bernard Blier (Prosper), François Périer
* Country: France
* Language: French
* Runtime: 92 min, B&W

(This is a reprint of post I had posted in A Night at the Movies. cinebuff.wordpress.com,


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(This is a reprint of a film appreciation posted in cinebuff.wordpress.com.b)

In one of the three Guy de Maupassant–derived stories of Ophuls’s Le plaisir (1952), the rejected model jumps out of a window and winds up in a wheelchair. The artist, now forcibly married to her, and with plenty of time to work, voices the bitter aphorism, “There’s no joy in happiness.” In the present film Danielle Darrieux invites unhappiness since it is the only way she can feel the pulse of her innermost universe where the heart rules. In Ophulsian universe, men and women occupy separate but equal spheres, and if the men have more power and agency in the world, the women are the conquistadors in the more important realm of the heart. They are the ‘militarists of love’ as Stendhal would call them. For the general’s wife in the Earrings of Madame de… a piece of jewelry serves as nicely as one marries above one’s rank to be reckoned as a woman of importance.  Louise is married and she has a lover. ‘Loss’ of  her earrings presented to her by her husband  could set in motion, events of such import as a kingdom lost at the throw of a dice. Such a personal article ( a trifle in itself) could as the kerchief of Desdemona lead to death in some cases or social disgrace.  Louisa belongs to the rank and file of the militarists of love who gamble with trouble, knowing tragedy is around the corner. Why do they still do it? I recall a passage where Stendhal (Red and the Black) quotes  the case of Margaret du Valois, the wife of Henri IV. She needed such dangers in order to feel her existence. Not having anxiety was as being in a limbo, out of the pale of social respectability her station and rank commanded.

The Earrings of Madame de . . . is based on a 1951 novel by Louise de Vilmorin simply called Madame de, who, in pawning the earrings given her by her husband, sets off a chain of circumstances that, when she falls desperately in love, tightens around her and destroys her. It’s like a brooch, small in scope but filigreed and chiseled masterly as the works of Ophuls often are. The film has a special sheen brought out by incisive wit, irony and understanding. His films are all a treat to watch. It is all on the surface like light caught and the many facets of the stone keep you attentive to what goes on beneath. ”Madame de…” is one and  his  ”La Ronde” (1950) and ”Lola Montes” (1955) are similarly masterly. Take for instance the scene where he makes Baron Fabrizio Donati  writing his lover  day after day, with no letter back. Of course Louise frail in health and unable to stay in Paris tears up his letters and throw them out of her train carriage all the more despondent. She must play her part as demanded of her. In her thoughts,-her  tears and unhappiness on reading them were as good as replies to them. ‘ I’ve answered all your letters my love,”says she. She lacked the courage to reply in any other manner. Louise is married to a general. Their marriage has style but no substance. In fact as the general observes it is superficially superficial. In the same context he sententiously adds, – it is his way of serious conversation, ‘our conjugal bliss is a reflection of ourselves’.

The way she views her earrings is a clear indication of her feelings with regards to marriage. The diamonds, a gift of her husband she doesn’t mind selling since her debts that necessited it, are part of household expenses. She has run up debts in keeping her station in the society while the gift coming from Baron Donati is  from desire. She makes it clear in her tryst in his carriage that she will always keeps them by her bedside. That is what love means to her. In the end when she presents the gift to the Church its significance cannot be lost on the viewer.

The diamond earrings like RL Stevenson’s Bottle Imp turns up often to expose their shallowness as a couple and it echoes Renoir’s La Regle du Jeu: marriage as an institution in the pre WWI France meant for the privileged precious little no more than parading their good breeding and privileges. In this film also disaster follows the woman who makes a false step. Louise will lie to cover the absence of her earrings that makes her lover take offense first and then lead to a duel between two persons who mean most to her. All this will make the viewer agree with the general who quotes Napoleon,”The only victory in love is to flee”.

‘The Earrings of Madame de…,’ directed in 1953 by Max Ophuls, is one of the most mannered and contrived love movies ever filmed. It glitters and dazzles, and beneath the artifice it creates a heart, and breaks it. The film is famous for its elaborate camera movements, its graceful style, its sets, its costumes and of course its jewelry. It stars Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica, who effortlessly embody elegance. It could have been a mannered trifle. We sit in admiration of Ophuls’ visual display, so fluid and intricate. Then to our surprise we find ourselves caring’.( Roger Ebert-2001)
ack: Press Notes: Ophuls, A Pleasure Indeed, Criterion-Sep. 19, 2008

Comtesse Louise de    Danielle Darrieux
Générale André de    Charles Boyer
Baron Fabrizio Donati    Vittorio De Sica
Monsieur Rémy    Jean Debucourt
Monsieur de Bernac    Jean Galland
Lola    Lia Di Leo

Director    Max Ophuls
Based on the novel by    Louise de Vilmorin
Adaptation by    Marcel Achard, Max Ophuls and Annette Wademant
Cinematography:    Christian Matras
Music    : Oscar Straus and Georges van Parys
Costumes:    Georges Annenkov and Rosine Delamare
Sound    : Antoine Petitjean

Editing:    Borys Lewin
* Run Time: 105 minutes
* Filmed In: B&W

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Here I have sketched the opening sequence. Jean Vigo didn’t live to see the film as it is available now. When you study frame by frame you are able to appreciate more of the art than merely a story. The plot is very simple and yet Jean Vigo was able to create a masterpiece with his innovative approach to the medium. Later a movement would arise by a group of film makers who looked to Jean Vigo as their inspiration. New Wave is history now but L‘Atalante, as a film has lost none of its power to move us.
Opening shots describe the wedding of Jean, the ‘boss’ of the barge L’atalante to a girl from the village Corbeil on the Seine. His mate Papa Jules(Michael Simon, in an unforgettable role) and the kid are introduced right in the beginning.

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La Règle du Jeu, one of the greatest films in French cinema had a checkered career. When it was first released the critics panned it and the public were outraged. ( When the film opened in 1939,  one viewer lit a newspaper and tried to burn the theater down.  There were even threats to other theaters.) After six weeks the government banned the film. Rules of the game presents a comedy of manners of an effete class that had outlived its time and relevance. It is like Madame Marian took a look at herself in her cracked mirror and what she saw therein were the shades of de Beaumarchais and de Laclos. The French government stepped in and their argument for the ban was this:”to avoid representations of our country, our traditions, and our race that change its character, lie about it, and deform it through the prism of an artistic individual who is often original but not always sound.” (Bergan, 1992, quoting La Cinématographie française (France’s pre-war trade paper).
Jean Renoir, from the original scenario for The Rules of the Game gives us a clue to the film:
‘The world is made up of cliques, and not just the whole world, but every nation and every city. . . . Each of these cliques has its customs, its mores, indeed its own language. To put it simply, each has its rules, and these rules determine the game’. Renoir’s Game in modern parlance is more democratic and knowing the system is more to be desired than being born to a title. This sytem also have rules.
In Renoir’s eyes, the haute bourgeoise, fattened on privileges and idleness have ceased to feel any genuine emotions. Their estate is a setting for parties and balls and such frenetic pace of the landed gentry who hunts and opens their salons for guests merely hide their boredom with themselves and conjugal life. They are likeable and charming as long as interactions are set on a superficial level. Rules of their class dictate a certain conduct: they may carry on liaisons with wives of others but avoid such passion that might blow their discreet cover.
Renoir does not spare their hollowness in their domesticity or in their sports. Of the latter it is their scant respect for life is in evidence. He satires this aspect in a hunt brilliantly staged in the film. During this scene the servants drive the rabbits, pheasants, and quails through the woods to the ladies and gentleman waiting with shotguns and rifles behind blinds. Renoir establishes pace in this scene by cutting between 51 separate shots in four minutes. Climax of this hunt results in a carnage consisting of 22 rifles shots in 53 seconds resulting in 12 dead animals. Rules of the Game allows mindless sport but passion is no, no. The hunt scene was not included for its shock value but has is counter weight from the serving class.  When a gamekeeper goes on a murderous rampage during the party, the houseguests assume it is just part of the entertainment arranged for them. To them, it is all a game. Rules guide the class be it upper or menial.
Renoir’s concern with class distinctions we see in some form or other in his films. La Grande Illusions dealt with ‘the Gentleman’s War’ that would take the aristocratic class to oblivion. In Rules of the Game there is no central character but several from the upper and the lower classes to juxtapose how each class deals with jealousy and cuckoldry.
After a record-breaking flight, André Jurieux (Roland Toutain) returns to France but is heart-broken when the woman he loves, Christine de la Chesnaye (Nora Grégor), is not there to meet him.  His friend, Octave (Renoir), manages to have the aviator André invited to the Chesnayes’ country mansion for a weekend of hunting and partying.  Christine’s husband, Marquis Robert de la Chesnaye(Marcel Dalio), has a secret affair, and he has invited his mistress, Geneviève (Mila Parély), for the weekend. He wants to break off their affair.  Octave, who has had a crush on Christine since she was a girl, warns André that he cannot expect to win Christine, for that would breach the ‘rules of the game’.
There is another love triangle among the lower class servants. It involves Christine’s maid Lisette, Lisette’s husband Schumacher (Gaston Modot), who is gamekeeper at La Coliniere, and a poacher named Marceau, newly taken on as a domestic (over the objections of Schumacher) by the Marquis. Lisette is interested in  any man other than her husband. She lives most of the time in Paris with the mistress, Christine, while her husband spends most of his time on the country estate. Secondary characters include a retired general (Pierre Magnier), a country neighbor, the chef, and various other servants and guests.
Whilst the party is in full swing, the Chesnayes’ gamekeeper, Schumacher, discovers that his wife, has been flirting with  Marceau, and his jealosy gets the better of him…

‘In Renoir’s art, every line of dialogue, every action, every detail of dress, gesture, posture and setting needs to be taken into account if story, theme and characterisation are not to be misunderstood… Christine in La Règle du jeu convincing Geneviève she’s known all along about the latter’s affair with her husband. Some viewers believe her, despite the fact that her voice is shrill with strain, and other sequences clearly establish she has not been aware of the relationship until that afternoon’.(quoted from senses of cinema- James Leahy)
Memorable Quotes:
Marquis Robert: [to Schumacher] I have no choice but to dismiss you. It breaks my heart, but I can’t expose my guests to your firearms. It may be wrong of them, but they value their lives.
Robert: Corneille! Put an end to this farce!
Corneille, le majordome: Which one, your lordship?

*  Director Jean Renoir recut the film numerous times, due to poor initial reception and damage to the negatives during World War II.

* Despite now being considered by many historians one of the best films made, the picture almost became a lost art. Claiming that it was bad for the morale of the country (due to impending war), the French government banned the film about a month after its original release. When Germany took over France the following year, it was banned by the Nazi party as well, who also burnt many of the prints. Allied planes then accidentally destroyed the original negatives. It was thought to be a lost picture. In 1956, some followers of director Jean Renoir found enough pieces of the film scattered throughout France to reconstitute it with Renoir’s help. Renoir claimed only one minor scene was missing from the original cut.

After the success of _Grande Illusion, La (1937)_ and _ Bête humaine, La (1938)_, Jean Renoir and his brother Claude helped set up their own production company, Les Nouvelles Editions Francaises. This was their first production.
The Disturbing Relevance of Renoir’s La Régle du Jeu
:: Travis Else ::

An axiom that European’s have used for years to slight America is “The United States has no history.” To which most Americans reply “That may be true, but Europe has no future.”

Despite our recent financial troubles (which have been slight, in fact, compared to our European allies’ woes), the U.S. still maintains such an overwhelming advantage in terms of economic prosperity, technological advancement, and overall vibrancy, many Europeans cringe to think that

perhaps the U.S. has assumed a position of superiority in matters of culture. I believe the U.S. has perhaps succeeded Europe in adopting amoral social mores, as well.

Watching Jean Renoir’s classic film La Régle du Jeu (aka The Rules of the Game) last night, I was struck by how much the United States has become like France of the early 20th century: disaffected, disillusioned, materially consumed, godless, and almost exclusively amoral. What is more, the current populace lacks the one merit, if it may be called that, of the 1930’s French aristocracy: class.

Ultimately, La Régle du Jeu follows Renoir’s theme in of exposing the idiocy of class structure. Where as Grande Illusion laments the absurdity of war as it mocks warmongers, La Régle du Jeu laments amorality as it mocks all social classes: the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the peasant classes.

Set on the eve of WWI in Paris, the film opens with hero-pilot André Jurieu returning from a record-setting trans-Atlantic flight. Interviewed upon landing, he sadly laments: “I have never been so disappointed in all of my life!” This because his lover has chosen not to meet him at the airport. As we are introduced to the primary players, we find that love is random and arbitrary: husband and wife maintain illicit, though indiscreet liaisons with friends. Renoir makes very clear that, to the aristocracy, love is as Chamfort says: “An exchange of two whims and the contact of two skins.”

Loneliness, alienation, and boredom are expertly conveyed by Renoir through the soulless dialogue of aristocrat Marquis la Chesney and his mistress, Genevieve. Upon telling her that their affair is over, and that he is committing himself to his wife, Genevieve is unmoved, other than to say she wants the Marquis to suffer as she surely will. The Marquis flippantly invites Genevieve to lunch, at which she replies benignly “I don’t know if it’s my emotions, but I’m dying of hunger!”

La Chesney’s wife, Christine, is the lone female of any perceived conscience in the film. The object of pilot Jurieu’s affection and herself a Parisian émigré, she exudes a winsome naiveté in regard to relationships: “You mean, I can’t be nice to a man in Paris without him falling in love with me?” We later learn, of course, that this naiveté is practiced, and not sincere. However, in the first half of the film we are allowed to sympathize with her.

The sadness of the bourgeoisie, here represented by pilot Jurieu, is unsympathetic and selfish. A victim of unrequited love, he considers suicide, and, despite his heroism and celebrity, considers his life a failure for not having won the charms of Christine. As his confidante Octave (Renoir himself acting as conscience of the film) tells him, “She’s a society woman and society has some stiff rules.” These are the rules of which the title speaks, and a profound statement on the idiocy of French society. Whereas it is completely appropriate (and quite expected, in fact) to have a mistress or lover, one must still adhere to the rules of class. For example, when Jurieu does eventually win the heart of Christine, he feels it is his duty to tell her husband, the Marquis, of their tryst: to him it is an obvious act of propriety and grace.

As the relationships continue to unfold in loveless liaisons and manipulative dalliances, even Octave begins to crumble: “(How I wish to disappear) so I could stop worrying about what is right and what is wrong.” Ultimately, each player is burdened with selfish desires and lack of morality. This amorality is shown quite humorously as Christine confronts Genevieve, her husband’s mistress, with the knowledge of their less-than-discreet affair. Both make an attempt at hurt and grief, but in the end simply share a laugh at the Marquis’ one fault (smoking in bed), and become preoccupied with what costumes they shall wear at the evening’s party.

Perhaps the most memorable scene from the movie occurs as the party goes hunting at La Colinière, the Marquis’ country estate. The group of friends, all of them carrying on some sort of affair with another, while away their time hunting rabbits, allowing their servants to root out the hare and pheasants, and taking turns shooting the helpless creatures. It is sporting and banal, exuding a grim pathos that seems to underscore the disillusionment that ultimately results in WWI.

As the story climaxes, we observe directly the lifelessness and depravity of the group. A party-goer exclaims “I’ve had too much to drink and don’t know what I’m doing…” to which her companion replies “Good!” As the dalliances further unfold and emotions surface (in fact, it is the jealous Shumacher, his wife fooling around with a fellow servant, who finally acts on conscience, and seeks to kill his wife’s lover), the party implodes. Aghast at what his soirée has disintegrated into, the Marquis instructs his servant “Corneille, stop this farce!” to which Corneille replies “Which one?”

Altogether it is a pathetic spectacle of depravity and amorality, clashing with the strict social code of the day. Though to carry on an affair is “fun,” to live under the same roof with one’s lover is “immoral.” There are random codes of conduct to which even the valueless must live by. Renoir’s derision of this valueless society begins as comedy, but ultimately ends in tragedy. Regardless of a society’s amorality, there is always a price to pay for that amorality. Which leads me back to my original thesis.

Fifty years ago, the United States could be stereotypically described as nothing other than a puritanical society (many would argue that this was, to be precise, a society of puritanical hypocrites, but that discussion is for another day). Marriage was a sacred institution. Illicit affairs were not something to be flaunted, despite their existence. As our nation’s history has unfolded, and as we have in fact become the center of world culture and economic might (this can and will be argued by many), we have shed the clothes of morality. An observance a friend and I have visited about recently is the apparent lack of moral structure, primarily in our young people.

This exists to the point of eye-opening sexual promiscuity amongst children, increased violent crimes committed by children, and a general lack of knowledge or interest in living by a firm set of values. This is not a statement of judgment. It is simply an observance. It is an observance that can only lead me to believe that our society is becoming what French society was in the middle of the 20th century: a collection of valueless nouveau riche desperately searching for meaning to the point of exhaustion, and summarily relying on material wealth and passionless relationships to fill a life devoid of meaning. It is a simple adherence to the idea that “Love is temporary, sex is forever.”

La Régle du Jeu is not a film about sex. It is certainly not a film that attempts to pass judgment on society. It is a film about the loneliness and disillusionment of a society. No class is exempt, however all are affected to varying degrees and with varying results. Renoir’s portrait could easily be applied to most social circles in the U.S. today. In fact, Ang Lee’s Icestorm is a film that immediately comes to mind in delving into such issues.

Renoir is a careful observer of the world. His filmmaking, especially in the late 1930’s seemed to be prophetic in its vision of cause and effect. Larger issues were always at stake in his films. By cutting to the minutiae (the unraveling of the gentleman warrior in WWI, the unraveling of class values in early 20th century European society), Renoir was able to comment on the future of his country and continent. And so, we now witness a collection of societies with no identity (the advent of the Euro and broadening of the European Union have seen to this) and very little influence in finance, politics, or culture.(ack.)


* Director: Jean Renoir
* Script: Jean Renoir, Carl Koch
* Photo: Jean Bachelet
* Music: Mozart, Monsigny, Sallabert, Johann Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Chopin, Roger Désormières
* Cast: Marcel Dalio (Robert de la Chesnaye), Nora Gregor (Christine de la Chesnaye), Roland Toutain (André Jurieux), Mila Parély (Geneviève de Marras), Jean Renoir (Octave), Julien Carette (Marceau, le braconnier), Paulette Dubost (Lisette), Gaston Modot (Schumacher, le garde-chasse)
* Country: France
* Language: French
* Runtime: 110 min, B&W

(Ack:wikipedia,filmdefrance,epinions-metalluk sensesofcinema)

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La Bête Humaine Is directed by Jean Renoir after his La Grande Illusion. The film has none of the grandeur of his anti-war movie. Jean Gabin stars in both films, The film is  based on Zola’s novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle where Emile Zola adopted a naturalist style in order to show the hereditary influence of alcoholism and violence over five generations of a single family. (The Human Beast was the last in the series. By the way Renoir had adapted Nana (1926) and this film was his second of Zola’s novels.) Renoir’s film opens with a quotation highlighting this theme:

At times this hereditary flaw weighed heavily upon him. He felt he was paying the price for the generations of his forefathers whose drinking had poisoned his blood. His head felt as if it would explode in the throes of his suffering. He was compelled to acts beyond the control of his will, acts whose causes lay hidden deep within him.

There follows a signed photograph of Zola, as if Renoir was intent on tacking his film on his name but in developing the story he made the film into a symbiotic relationship of man with his machine into which Séverine, the woman and le crime passionel are more incidentals than crucial pieces in explaining his falling apart. Instead of Zola’s painstakingly constructed theme of the “hereditary flaw” Renoir builds up a straightforward crime melodrama: engine driver Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin) along with his partner Pecqueux (Carette) are waiting in La Havre for the repair of their  train. Lantier witnesses the murder by stationmaster Roubard (Fernand Ledoux) of the wealthy Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz). With that casual incident he is drawn into a domestic tragedy: Séverine (Simone Simon) the young wife of the murderer knows Lantier is an accessory and she is out to buy his silence in the only way she knows how. Of course her husband also thinks it is a good idea. Their friendship develops into a passionate affair whch can only end in tragedy.

This was Renoir’s second-to-last film before the outbreak of war. Perhaps the romantic fatalism of this dark tale must owe something to his previous film Le Crime de M. Lange in which he had teamed up with Jacques Prévert who went on to script Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows) which was released in the same year as this film.
Lantier is flawed as we shall see as the film builds up but among his co- workers, and standing before the engine he is in his natural element. It is established by a lengthy opening sequence, where he along with Pecqueux are attending to their tasks. The two actors actually learned how to operate a train, which Renoir then filmed for this sequence. There’s an incredible dynamism here with the roar and din of the train as it rushes along the track, Lantier and Pecqueux working in perfect, almost wordless unison. There is a documentary quality to the way the sequence is arranged with the repeated point-of-view shots of the track ahead, the landscape and buildings flashing by, and the story begins to take on with their final entry into the Le Havre station.

Having positioned Lantier as a working man Renoir also takes pains to show him interact with his colleagues in everyday and casual details such as Lantier greeting other drivers, reporting the malfunctioning axle, and these serve a specific function of setting him in a social context which Zola would have recognized as naturalism expressed in cinematic idiom.
Renoir’s political leanings are evident in the way he develops his working class hero and pointing to the undercurrents of class distinctions that existed in the society.
Running Time:    96 mins


* Jean Gabin – Jacques Lantier
* Julien Carette – Pecqueux
* Jean Renoir – Cabuche, the Poacher
* Gerard Landry – Dauvergne’s Son
* Colette Regis – Victoire
* Jacques Brunius – Farm Worker
* Georges Spanelly – Grand-Morin’s Secretary
* Georges Péclet – Railway Worker
* Tony Corteggiani – Section’s Chief
* Emile Genevois – Farm Worker

* Simone Simon – Séverine
* Fernand Ledoux – Robaud, Séverine’s Husband
* Blanchette Brunoy – Flore
* Jenny Hélia – Philomene
* Jacques Berlioz – Grand-Morin
* Léon Larive – Grand-Morin’s servant
* Marcel Pérès – Lampmaker
* Charlotte Clasis – Aunt Phasie
* Guy Decomble – Garde-barriere
* Claire Gérard – Traveler
Curt Courant – Cinematographer; Suzanne de Troeye – Editor; Raymond Hakim – Producer; Robert Hakim – Producer; Joseph Kosma – Composer (Music Score); Eugène Lourié – Set Designer; Jean Renoir – Director; Jean Renoir – Screenwriter; Marguerite Renoir – Editor; Emile Zola – Book Author
Similar Movies
Double Indemnity; In a Lonely Place; La Chienne; Le Jour Se Lève; Ossessione; Toni; Voici le Temps des Assassins; Le Dernier Tournant
Critical reception

Frank S. Nugent, film critic for The New York Times, gave the film a positive review even though he felt uncomfortable watching the film. He wrote, “It is hardly a pretty picture, dealing as it does with a man whose tainted blood subjects him to fits of homicidal mania, with a woman of warped childhood who shares her husband’s guilty secret of murder…It is simply a story; a macabre, grim and oddly-fascinating story. Sitting here, a safe distance from it, we are not at all sure we entirely approve of it or of its telling. Its editing could have been smoother—which is another way of saying that Renoir jerks his camera, jumps a bit too quickly from scene to scene, doesn’t always make clear why his people are behaving as they do. But sitting here is not quite the same as sitting in the theatre watching it. There we were conscious only of constant interest and absorption tinged with horror and an uncomfortable sense of dread. And deep down, of course, ungrudged admiration for Renoir’s ability to seduce us into such a mood, for the performances which preserved it.”


In 1954 director Fritz Lang remade the picture as Human Desire, a film noir featuring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, among others. Fritz Lang had earlier remade another of Renoir’s film La Chienne (1931), a savage and dark drama about a man’s self-destruction, as Scarlet Street.


* Venice Film Festival: Mussolini Cup, Best Film, Jean Renoir; 1939.
(ack:brightlights,allmovie, wikipedia)

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Le Jour Se Leve-1939

At the outset I am partial to French films and especially for Jean Gabin. The Gallic spirit exuded by Gabin in the 30s  and 40s is noteworthy in as diverse films as Pepe le Moko and La Grande Illusion.  He is as French as Henry Fonda is American. Having seen quite a few of his films I  think Gabin can make any film come alive. His naturalness and sincerity make whatever roles he has taken come natural.

Gabin in Le Jour se leve is a working class hero and works in an environment that is dangerous. He works in a sand blasting factory and its slow poison will make even the healthy lung of the young worker collapse sooner or later. Notwithstanding he goes through his routine as an exemplary specimen of a factory hand.  It is on such a man with animal spirits love plays fast and loose. Shortly after he meets Francoise, an orphan he is ready to settle down. She is willowy and simulates a clinging vine but appearances are deceptive. She has already fallen into the coils of Valentine who is amoral and his sophistry can make white look as black. Gabin of course cannot match him and the stage is set for the fatal resolution: shooting down Valentine who has invaded into his privacy is the lynch pin that holds the story together.

Gabin is trapped and before the final showdown Gabin harangues to the gawks awaiting down below. Of course many of them are curious to see the outcome and some, from the neighborhood, view with some concern for they know Gabin as straight. He is not a criminal in the usual sense and not even a lush or brawler. But the society has already marked him for a bad end. Has it not slowly poisoned his lungs and made him sick? Drinking milk during pauses on the factory floor to fortify himself is as inadequate as the money in his pocket that cannot give him a clear head in a moment of crisis.

The question is then of double standard  that a society holds for an individual and for a particular class like capitalists or arm merchants. The factory owners who put the lives of workers are not called to account as an individual who commits a crime of passion. Yes Francois( Gabin) has shot a man but where are those murderers who are at large? The music underscores the doom laden theme and it is a movie that haunted me as Les Enfants du Paradise for some other reason.

François (Jean Gabin) has killed Valentin (Jules Berry) and has locked himself in his apartment. It naturally comes under siege by the police. Over the course of a long night, he reflects on the circumstances of how he, someone who is a hardworking and  basically a decent man, was reduced to murder. The events leading up to that fateful confrontation are recounted in a series of flashbacks.
Thus the viewer is told that François was involved with the young florist Françoise, and with Clara, who was formerly the assistant in Valentin’s show. Valentin, an older man became jealous, and  confronted François in his apartment. He drew his gun but in the end he is shot by François.
‘The film’s unusual construction is served by its sombre dusky photography.  Almost every shot seems to be loaded with significance and poignancy, particularly the night time scenes at the start of the film when François, cornered in his room, reflects on his predicament. Visually, there is no doubt that this is a work of poetic genius, heart-rending in its wistfulness, tragic in its stifling sense of melancholia’. ( quoted from James Travers 2001-filmsdefrance.com)
But as the sun rises, the siege is broken when two men throw tear gas into François’ apartment. François knows he cannot hold out any longer. In despair he shoots himself in the heart. This film was included in the first Sight and Sound top ten greatest films list in 1952.
The film was remade as The Long Night (1947), with Henry Fonda in the Gabin role.

Directed by     Marcel Carné
Written by     Jacques Prévert
Jacques Viot
Music by     Maurice Jaubert
Cinematography     Philippe Agostini
André Bac
Albert Viguier
Curt Courant
Editing by     René Le Hénaff
Running time     93 min.
Language     French


* Jean Gabin as François
* Jacqueline Laurent as Françoise
* Jules Berry as M. Valentin
* Arletty as Clara
* Arthur Devère as Mr. Gerbois
* Bernard Blier as Gaston
* Marcel Pérès as Paulo
* Germaine Lix as La chanteuse

M. Valentin: You’re the type women fall in love with . . . I’m the type that interests them.

Poetic Realism
Poetic realism as a movement was an artistic response to the state of things that existed in France under the Third Republic. The nation was like a house divided itself.
Many French filmmakers most notably Marcel Carné naturally transcribed it during the late 30’s in films. It was a symptom as a result of the decay that had set in the Third Republique. The fatalistic tone of the films gave the artistic expression to the concerns of the man on the street. It was proved to be right in the early Summer of 1940. In a span of six weeks France fell. Films like literature are fairly good indicators of a nation’s moral and intellectual vigor. (‘Literature is civilization itself.’ The dictum of Victor Hugo equally applies to films.) The doomed romanticism of French ‘poetic realism’ then was drawn from the pores of a national life and elevated into art.
The emergence and decline of the leftist Popular Front movement gave the filmmakers a boost to focus on working-class life, but with more fatalistic plots. Renoir’s La Bête Humaine(1938)  is an example where Jean Gabin’s milieu is clearly that of working class and his irrational bursts of anger and his tragic end typify poetic realism in cinema. They also created a moody atmosphere through music, lighting, and vividly detailed but vaguely dreamlike sets as in Les visiteurs du soir(1942). Le Jour se lève, appearing on the eve of World War II was banned in December of 1939 and again during the Occupation, its air of defeat cutting too close to the bone for French authorities.
Films directed by Marcel Carne (1909-1996) enjoyed the greatest  artistic success in French cinema (apart from that of Jean Renoir during roughly the same era) when poetic realism was in vogue: Drôle de drame (1937), Le Quai des brumes, Hôtel du Nord (1938), Le Jour se lève, Les Visiteurs du soir and Les Enfants du paradis (1945). Significantly, all of them featured scripts written or co-written by screenwriter Jacques Prevert (1900-1977) except for Hôtel du Nord, which was written by Jean Aurenche.
Le Jour se lève stands out for its purity of conception and its structural unity; its novel flashback structure has inspired many number of films since.

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Jeux interdits in French is a film by René Clément and based on François Boyer’s novel of the same name.
Let me sketch out the opening scene:

During the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 the road out of Paris is clogged with those escaping the city. They are strafed by Nazi fighter planes. Among the panic stricken crowds we meet a 5-year-old girl named Paulette, with her parents. Paulette’s little dog runs onto a bridge. She chases it, and her parents desperately run after her. Bullets kill both parents and fatally wound the dog. Paulette, lying on the ground next to her mother, reaches out a hand to touch the dead cheek, and then touches her own cheek.
Is this a simple war movie? Of course not. In that very unconscious act of a child we note the slow contagion of man’s violence has visited on her, and she speaks for all who have been thus tainted; surely as night follows day every act, good or bad is carried on by our next generation. She may not rationalize death of her mother but connect that mother’s cold cheek to her own to give it a place as it were. This is a powerful movie and it is also  an indictment of the world of elders who lay down the rules and add their litte riders to justify their breaking them. They shall speak of ‘Peace with honour or peace that passeth all understanding’ and at the same time wage war to bring their own brand of democracy to some country that holds no borders with them or has nothing by way of culture or religion in common.
A child cannot reason so must invent other means to cope as a hungry child will bawl till it is fed. Forbidden Games is that twilight zone, a  territory the child must create for the sins of its parents whose ways are far beyond its ken. A child who takes his father’s pistol from home to school plays a game and it is a forbidden game. Is it forbidden? No, not if we look at the way NRA defends the right to bear arms. Coming back to the film, the traumatized orphan child is taken in by a peasant family and thus Paulette meets ten-year-old Michel Dollé (Georges Poujouly) She quickly becomes attached to Michel as her big brother and the two attempt to cope with the death and destruction that surrounds them by secretly building a small cemetery where they bury her dog and then start to bury other animals, stealing crosses from the local graveyard. “Paulette has never really dealt with the deaths of her parents. She acknowledges that they are gone, but they are gone in theory, not practice; that they are truly dead forever seems to elude her. Yet she becomes fascinated with death, and Michel joins her in burying a mole that was captured by an owl. Soon they are burying every dead thing they can find, even worms, even broken plates. At one point, while they are lying side by side on the floor doing his homework, he stabs a cockroach with his pen. “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” she cries, and he says, “I didn’t. It was a bomb that killed him.”(quoted from Roger Ebert,- Dec18,2005)
Film critic Leonard Maltin has said: “Jeux interdits is almost unquestionably the most compelling and intensely poignant drama featuring young children ever filmed.”
‘Catch them young’ so says the old saw. Naturally the cemetery of Paulette and Michel grows larger as we in adult world enlarge the extent of war memorials all across the globe. Didn’t we learn that from the shadow of two world wars? The two also learn the importance of symbols in a curious way. A grave is no good  without a cross they know from their very limited experience. So they begin to steal crucifixes to put above the graves. This entails a subplot involving a feud between the Dolles and their neighbors, the Gouards, who accuse each other of stealing crucifixes. There is also a scuffle between two in the cemetery and falling into a grave. All the while the secret cemetery in the old mill grows more elaborate.
The film was initially turned down by Cannes, then accepted after a scandal. It was turned down by Venice because it had played at Cannes, but accepted after another uproar, and won the Golden Lion as best film, with a best actress award for Fossey.
The film has a scintillating musical score, composed and performed by legendary Spanish classical guitarist Narciso Yepes.
“Forbidden Games” was attacked and praised by adults showing  children inventing happiness where none should exist. Film critic Roger Ebert cites the Japanese animated film “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988) as another rare film that dared to tackle this theme.

* Georges Poujouly – Michel Dollé
* Brigitte Fossey – Paulette
* Amédée – Francis Gouard
* Laurence Badie – Berthe Dollé
* Suzanne Courtal – Madame Dollé
* Lucien Hubert – Dollé
* Jacques Marin – Georges Dollé
* Pierre Merovée – Raymond Dollé
* Louis Saintève – Le prêtre


* Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, 1952
* Venice Film Festival Golden Lion award for best picture, 1952
* New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Foregin Language Film, 1952
* BAFTA Award for Best Film, 1953
Directed by     René Clément
Produced by     Robert Dorfmann
Written by     Jean Aurenche
Pierre Bost
François Boyer
Music by     Narciso Yepes
Cinematography     Robert Juillard
Running time     102 min.
Language     French
(ack: Wikipedia)
Similar Movies
The Spirit of the Beehive  (1973, Victor Erice)
Au Revoir Les Enfants  (1987, Louis Malle)
La Fracture du Myocarde  (1990, Jacques Fansten)
Europa, Europa  (1991, Agnieszka Holland)
Hope and Glory  (1987, John Boorman)
Strayed  (2003, André Téchiné)
Father of a Soldier  (1965, Revaz Chkheidze)
Ezra  (2007, Newton I. Aduaka)
Cria Cuervos  (1975, Carlos Saura)
Empire of the Sun  (1987, Steven Spielberg)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Is Paris Burning?  (1966, René Clément)
Les Maudits  (1947, René Clément)
Gervaise  (1956, René Clément)
The Day and the Hour  (1963, René Clément)
La Bataille Du Rail  (1945, René Clément)
Monsieur Ripois  (1954, René Clément)
Barrage Contre le Pacifique  (1957, René Clément)
Au-Dela Des Grilles  (1948, René Clément)
Other Related Movies
is related to:      Fanny & Alexander  (1982, Ingmar Bergman)
#  In a television interview (“Vivement Dimanche Prochain”, France 2, 17 April 2005) Brigitte Fossey, who played the little Paulette, revealed that the film had originally been shot as a short, and then it was later decided to extend it into a feature film. Unfortunately she had lost her milk teeth and Georges Poujouly (who plays the boy Michel) had had his hair cut to play in Nous sommes tous des assassins (1952). So, in many scenes of the movie Paulette has false teeth and Michel is wearing a wig.

# Brigitte Fossey’s first film.

for films check out the author at cinebuff.wordpress.com

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