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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