Archive for September 3rd, 2008


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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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