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L'Atlante
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(To be concluded)
Film: L’Atlante
black&white
director: Jean Vigo
storyboard recreated from film

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A naïve cashier who is far above his social class and cultivated falls in love with a tramp who milks the old fool for what is worth. Her only concern is to keep her pimp and the arrangement leads to a course that has disastrous consequences for all concerned.
Renoir took the story and created a poignant film that established his reputation as a film maker. It was his first sound film and what with prevailing Hayes code,1930 (‘No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it’) La Chienne was never shown in the United States until 1975, 44 years after its original French release.
Duration:91 minutes,
Black and white,
Director: Jean Renoir
Plot:
A meek and unassuming office clerk, Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon), teased at his workplace and terrorized by a virago of a wife at home, declines an invitation from his co-workers to turn the evening’s dinner banquet festivities into a night of carousing. His excuse is that he was to be home before his wife’s midnight curfew. On the way home, he encounters a young man abusing a young woman and quickly interferes to stop it. Gallantly he hires a taxi to take them home. After leaving Dédé (Georges Flamant) he walks through the seedy section to her dump. Before he takes leave he lets her know his intention.
The scene quickly lays down the premise of the film. Social morality and individual morality are two sides of the same coin. Legrand who will refuse to let down his public image however ridiculous, to be called a whore monger is not averse himself to set up a tramp in a quiet apartment.
Lucienne Pelletier, nicknamed Lulu (Janie Marese) lets the aging cashier keep her in such circumstances so she has Dédé on hand. Maurice keeps giving money and artwork to Lulu, forgiving her even after he finds out that she’s been selling paintings by “Clara Wood” that are earning high prices. There is a subtext in the private life of Legrand who discovers Adèle’s “dead” husband Godard (Roger Gaillard) is not dead. Renoir with tongue in cheek humor delineates the character who is an out and out scoundrel. His game is blackmail. He has come back demanding Legrand buy him off. While he was sacrificing his life for the country Legrand had stolen his wife, something that will never go down well for his public image. To his shock the unhappily married Legrand is all too eager to simply step aside. Renoir seems to comment: in the eye of the society the sergeant is a hero, a martyr. It would rather keep a lie in circulation than condone the man who replaced him in his bed.
Coming back to the story this episode shuts up Adèle (Magdeleine Bérubet) who had carped eternally about hero of her husband. Legrand is at last free.Maurice Legrand quickly moves to the apartment he had set up for his mistress. It comes as a shock for him to discover the sad truth: she loved him only for what she could get out of him.
In one unforgettable cinematic moment Legrand turns up unnoticed at the apartment while a crowd in front of the building is raptly watching street singer perform. He kills the tramp and walks away unnoticed. Soon the lover-boy arrives driving up in such ostentatious manner breaking up the crowd.
‘The film’s conclusion suggests that Legrand, a respectable member of bourgeois society and a white collar worker, doesn’t have to pay for his actions,… when there’s a far less respectable scapegoat at hand’. The film ends with a weirdly tragicomic epilogue, in which Legrand and Godard meet up as hobos, years later, both of them gruff old men cackling about their shared fate. When Legrand confesses that he has become a murderer since they last met, Godard simply stares at him for a moment and then shrugs, “it takes all kinds.” ‘La Chienne ends with Legrand telling Godard, “life is beautiful.” They walk away together. (ack: only the cinema/April, 2,2012/seul-le-cinema.blogspot.)
Michael Simon again would take the role of a tramp. He appears in Boudu Saved From Drowning.
To quote Peter Bogdanovich ‘Of all the great filmmakers, Renoir is most the humanist poet, the one director who only made pictures about people—not stereotypes, not archetypes, not myths, but real people’. People are not suspended in vacuum but in a milieu that is contrived. In cinematic medium social consciousness of the director dictates visual clues to give it specific gravity:using deep focus photography Renoir gives life of the people going on around the main personages and using repeated imagery of mirrors and reflections we also see them as though under a microscope. Adèle’s keeping her monthly dividends inside a mirrored wardrobe; the shot of a shaving Legrand that pans to the image of the opened wardrobe as he pilfers money, surprising Lulu and her pimp in bed we see him in reflection as the intrusive third party, each object acquires a power of its own.
The film opens and ends as though we are taken through the proscenium of make believe. I shall end with Bogdanovich: ‘The seeming simplicity of Renoir—he never calls attention to himself, yet it is so clearly his eye through which we are seeing the world—belies an amazing complexity in his understanding of people, of the human comedy.’
Trivia:;”In the film Michel Simon falls in love with Janie Marèse, and he did off-screen as well, while Marèze fell for Georges Flamant, who plays the pimp. Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger had encouraged the relationship between Flamant and Marèze in order to get the fullest conviction into their performances – (Flamant was a professional criminal but an amateur actor). After the film had been completed Flamant, who could barely drive, took Marèse for a drive, crashed the car and she was killed. At the funeral Michel Simon fainted and had to be supported as he walked past the grave. He threatened Renoir with a gun, saying that the death of Marèze was all his fault. “Kill me if you like”, responded Renoir, “but I have made the film”wikipedia)

benny

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Among the great Polish filmmakers—Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland, Roman Polanski—Andrzej Wajda remains unique in the way he has explored in his films the tortuous path his nation had to take. The question of her national identity: what sort of Poland do the people want in the post war produced the Ashes and Diamonds a classic. Between his fifties war trilogy and his most recent film, Katyn (2007) we have Danton a minor classic where the themes do find echo in what was taking place in Poland.

‘The film was based on the play The Danton Affair, by Stanisława Przybyszewska, first performed in 1931. Przybyszewska was a Communist whose sympathies lay with the radical Robespierre. Wajda revived the play in 1975, but he turned it on its head, making a hero out of the more moderate Danton. By 1980, the high point of the Solidarity liberation movement, he had arranged to make his version of the play into a film, a Polish-French co-production with Gaumont. Studio scenes were to be done in Poland, while location scenes were to be shot in France. Martial law was imposed on December 13, 1981, however, in a coup directed by the Soviet Union: General Jaruzelski was installed, Solidarity outlawed, communications cut, a curfew introduced, and production in Poland became impossible. The whole project was then transferred to Paris, with Wajda taking some of his Polish actors, including Wojciech Pszoniak, who plays Robespierre, and a small group of co-workers. As a result, Wajda, this most Polish of directors, was forced to become an émigré, only returning from exile in 1989, when the Jaruzelski government fell. (He went on to receive his adopted country’s highest film honor, the César, for best director in 1983.)’(Quoted from Leonard Quart/Criterion Collection news)
Wajda’s tale of the struggle between two factions spearheading the French Revolution is not an isolated event. Political fall out of an ideal produces factions and we see it in the solidarity movement and in the soviet backed government of General Jaruzelski. This we saw in the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky for the mantle of Lenin. Beyond this parallel what was happening in Poland in the early 80s was altogether different. Danton and Robespierre represent two factions, one moderate and the other all out radical just as their personalities are opposites to one another. Danton is larger than life, venal and easy while Robespierre the lawyer from Arras is austere and chaste. Danton (Gérard Depardieu) and Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) were close friends and fought together in the French Revolution, but by 1793 Robespierre had become the ruler and in order to wipe out opposition he ordered for a series of mass executions that became known as the Reign of Terror. Danton, well known as a spokesman of the people, had been living in relative solitude in the French countryside, but he returned to Paris to challenge Robespierre’s violent rule and call for the people to demand their rights. Robespierre, however, could not accept such a challenge and tries to win him over to his side.

There is much more than a tacit understanding to the reign of terror at stake. While Danton realizes the path he had set out has gone off the rails the other is all the more for bloodletting. Danton knows from events played out around him Revolution has become like Saturn devouring it own children. Robespierre takes advantage of Danton’s vacillation to outmaneuver him and arrest him. Thus five years after the fall of Bastille it is the will of Robespierre, Saint- Just et al that overrides the voice of restraint.

There is a telling scene that takes place in the studio of Jacques Louis David where the dictator in waiting the incorruptible Robespierre is sitting for the painter. When he is handed a palm he refuses it since it reminds one of martyr’s palm. He also insists erasing his enemies from the group painting and it echoes Stalin’s purge of history of Bolshevik revolution. (In that famous photo Lenin on return from exile harangues people where Trotsky the organizer of the Red Army stands next to the podium. Stalin on taking control had him airbrushed from history albeit pictorially. )

Both factions hold however one component common to their cause. Both are maneuvering in the name of the people. Robespierre who, as Danton would point out at a crucial one to one meeting shrinks from all contact, – and in all probability had never laid, speaks of man on the street as matter of his right. Yet Robespierre who holds the trump cards says: ‘We want Danton’s death.’
Judge Fouquier: ‘I am not your private executioner.’
Robespierre the ‘incorruptible’ of course wants him to effect the order of the Committee just the same as ‘people’s executioner.’
It is an irony of all blood baths that the dictators unleash are in the name of the people.
The earthy ‘larger than life’ Danton and the puritanical Robespierre fight like whores for their favor.
Danton: ‘A political trial is a duel. If the government accuses we can accuse them.’ The idea is to create doubts in the minds of people. The same ploy the government also uses in making Danton and other ‘conspirators’ sit along with the criminal like common thieves and pimps. .
Themes, which figure in Danton, are both political and ethical and are timeless.
The irrefutable fact that Danton set up the Tribunal does not mean he was above that. The hero of August 10 was evidently consumed by his own creation and also took Robespierre within three months.
The trouble with revolutions is that you don’t control insurrection with words once the blood is drawn whether in the streets or in the bedchamber.
Danton whose voice was like thunder shaking the very dome but as essayed by Gerard Deperdiue could not raise it beyond a whimper. The same could be said of the film Danton.
‘In addition to Mr. Depardieu and Mr. Pszoniak, the excellent cast includes Patrice Chereau as Danton’s journalist-friend, Camille Desmoulins; Angela Winkler as Lucille Desmoulins, Camille’s wife who followed him to the scaffold; Boguslaw Linda, as Saint Just, and Roger Planchon, who is partciuarly good as Fourquier Tinville, who prosecuted Danton and his associates in a rigged trial’ (quoted from NY Times review. Wajda’s ‘DANTON,’ Inside the French Revolution by Vincent Canby; Sept 28, 1983)

benny

u

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Myth of the Immortal Singer
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice, whether told by Apollonius of Rhodes, Virgil or Ovid does not age. It is not because of the story- teller but the story, and what it represents. Myths that associated with gods residing on the snowy tops of Mt. Olympus we may in these times dispense with. Yet remains within the pale shadowy regions of our psyche another kind of gods that slip mysteries through symbols and in suprareal clarity, which we call dreams. A sense of awe it elicits from us so much so we treat dreams as nightmares or as fulfilling deepest wishes vicariously. We haven’t yet plumbed the depths of ‘the mystery of being’. Thankfully myths are part of our learning process and if we could crack the code- this mystery, we all would be poets and life would be poetry in motion. Oh no! We are dealing with our imperfect state and as long as we remain thus the story of Orpheus and Eurydice would hold relevance to us. If we teleport ourselves to another intergalactic station we can relate to it as Orpheus descending to the other world. That is in future. So we shall as Jack Webb says, ‘stick to facts,’

In ancient times what Ovid and Virgil strove at we may deal the mysteries after our fashion. Thus Cocteau placing the story of Orpheus in his time is apt. ‘ A legend is entitled to be set anywhere… interpret it as you will.’ The poet admonishes before the film gets underway.
Cocteau interprets it by using many elements from the culture of his time and these visual clues give the immortal myth its time and place. For example, the messengers of the Princess of Death are grim, leather-clad motorcyclists. Buildings in France, which remained in ruins after World War II, represent the underworld and Orpheus’s trial in the underworld is presented in the manner of an inquest held by officials of the German occupation attempting to discover members of the French resistance. At the very end of the film, the Princess and Heurtebise are prisoners, brought forward to face the tribunal, ominously elevated on a pedestal above them.
At the Café des Poètes, two cliques are engaged in a brawl. It follows immediately after the Princess (Casares) and the young poet Cègeste (Edouard Dermithe) arrive. The princess has unlimited means to further the career of her protégé, but he is killed by the outriders of the Princess. Apparently an accident. The Princess orders Orpheus (Marais) along as a witness. Cègeste’s body is taken to the villa in the outskirts than to the hospital.
The sleek Rolls serves as a metaphor for the insulated world of a poet. As Orpheus says elsewhere, ‘Poet sings of death and dreams of death’,’… and life is a long death’. His experience with the Princess and the dead poet leaves him irritable and his preoccupation with the car radio transmitting coded messages elicits following comment ‘You can’t spend your life in a talking car’. Eurydice would like him to be concerned about the baby she is carrying. The poet engrossed in decoding messages tells the chauffeur, ‘I am on the threshold of a discovery of a world and she is on to bills and baby’s clothes.’
Orpheus finds the company of the chauffeur Heurtebise (Périer) more congenial. He has the wonderful ability despite his position of taking orders from the Princess and her handlers, to come and go as he pleases. Is it because the poet committed to art found such freedom an ideal state or is it physical attraction? He is as mysterious as Death since he can pass through mirrors as Death. ‘Mirrors are the doors through which death comes and goes’.
Heurtebise is evidently attracted to Eurydice a fact he admits before his peers. He warns her in her condition not to take the bicycle and she refuses to listen. The death of Eurydice brings to surface the motive of Death. She visited often to watch Orpheus asleep and her fascination is an aspect that brings Orpheus to assess his fascination with death. A poet’s imagination is not purely an abstraction or a pose but holds a tangible basis. Thus Orpheus songs or dreams of Death have the Princess as the starting point. (‘Death has a face’ and in this case the Princess.) It becomes now clear why Cègeste who was his rival had to die.
Cocteau shows Death (the Princess) is as much a transgressor as the Poet (Orpheus) who in pursuit of his art has transgressed in his relationship with Eurydice.
Cocteau explored the myth of Orpheus on no fewer than three occasions: Le Sang d’Un Poete (Blood of a Poet, 1930), Orphee (Orpheus, 1949) and Le Testament d’Orphee (1960).
Cocteau said of Mirrors: “We watch ourselves grow old in mirrors. They bring us closer to death.” If one could step through the reality to the other side it would be repeating Orpheus’ descent into the Hades and back.
(ack: wikipedia,Criterion collection , Cocteau: The Art of Cinema (1992). Reprinted by permission of Marion Boyars Publishers, New York, London.)
Memorable quotes:
Orpheus coming out of the crowd tells:’Is my case hopeless?’
Owner of the Café des Poètes to Orpheus: Astonish us!
Orpheus checks the review and finds every page blank. ‘Is less absurd than it were written every page full of absurdities.’
The Princess to Orpheus:’Don’t stand there like a lamp post.’
The Princess:’ Are you sleepwalking? Follow me!’
Orpheus:’Yes I am asleep. The dreamer must accept his dreams.
Orpheus:’Who can say what is poetry and what is not?’
Orpheus: ‘Aglonice (a member of the League of Women- Bachantes)cannot tell you anything new.’
message:’ a single glass of water lights the world.’

* Director: Jean Cocteau
* Produced By: Discina International Films
* Run Time: 95 minutes

Main cast

* Jean Marais – Orphée
* François Périer – Heurtebise
* María Casares – The Princess – Death
* Marie Déa – Eurydice
* Henri Crémieux – L’éditeur
* Juliette Gréco – Aglaonice
* Roger Blin – The Poet
* Edouard Dermithe – Jacques Cégeste
* René Worms – Judge
* Nicholas D’Agosto- The Guy
benny

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It is said ‘Love makes the world go round,’ and it is a merry go round in this case. We get to see some who are riding the painted horses of their libido and we know it is a cavalcade, a passing show of women at the lower end of the social class and men of stolidity, class and debauchee all well settled on their places. Naturally while it lasts it is impossible to set apart them by their social differences or polish. You see the fast and furious spin can only give us vignettes and it is set in Vienna in the early 1900s. From the world- weary narrator excellently essayed by Anton Walbrook we follow certain characters in particular in their natural habitat. The prostitute and the maid for example dare to ply their trade and accept the risks that their position entails.
The film demands that the audience pay attention to the structure, to the interplay among the characters, and to the opulent visual elements; and the effect is a delight, as typical with films of Ophuls overtly sexual themes are treated both visually and intellectually to take out what is heady and rank. By no means it is insipid but Ophuls’ keen insight into what keeps the male and female, urbane and demimondaine sparkle makes the difference. Passion for any individual is ephemeral but does it not drive him or her to pursue with all the more ardor though the deed is done and the person has gone? It may be first love that one seeks to recapture but no matter the individual is not likely to quit if time is right and occasion comes along. The face and name of the loved may all be different but what drives it is invariably from same source. Metaphor of a merry-go-round for this motivating force in human behavior is apt. Love is fleeting long live love that makes the world go round.

La Ronde is based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), it was an adaptation of perhaps the most famous and most scandalous play of fin de siècle and not staged in Vienna until 1921—was ideal material for the filmmaker’s return to his roots. It’s an ingenious piece of dramatic construction. In the first of its ten scenes, a prostitute picks up a soldier, who in the second scene romances a chambermaid, who in the next scene is ravished by her young employer, and so on until the end, when a count spends the night with the streetwalker from the opening scene and the play comes full circle.
‘Ophuls shot the picture entirely in the studio, and he and his co-scenarist, Jacques Natanson, added one more character to the ten in Schnitzler’s play: an unnamed, godlike figure, played by Walbrook, who, assuming several different guises, guides all the heedless lovers through their various intrigues, philosophizes between scenes, and, not incidentally, operates a festive-looking but occasionally balky merry-go-round. (When one of the male characters finds himself unable to perform in bed, Walbrook has to make a few repairs so the love carousel can keep turning.)’
Max Ophuls (1902–57)
Ophuls, who was born in Germany, worked in the theater there and in Austria during the twenties, made films in Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands in the thirties, and spent the forties in the United States. La ronde was made in France, where the filmmaker had been a citizen since 1938 but had not lived for a decade; its cast consisted mostly of French actors but also included the Italian Isa Miranda, who had starred in his marvelous La signora di tutti (1934). Last but not the least Anton Walbrook (The Red Shoes) plays the cicerone.
Max Ophuls’ career in the German film industry had to be abruptly stopped when Adolf Hitler came into power. He fitted well all the traits that the Nazi’s loved to hold up to ridicule as decadent: a Jew, – a sophisticated and artistic Jew at that. His last film before he left his native land was a tragic tale of adultery and foolish honor called Liebelei (1932) set in Vienna and based on a play by Schnitzler. (The wry romantic fatalism of Schnitzler perhaps fitted Ophuls’ worldview.) Liebelei was for him a threnody of the vanished grace of Vienna that he had known. La Ronde that came after the Nazi Regime was swept off into the rubbish heap of history was much lighter in tone.
Like many European directors his stint in Hollywood was not a very happy one. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), which was adapted from a story by another Viennese, Stefan Zweig. Its subtlety was lost on American audiences of the day, and it flopped. His last two Hollywood movies Caught and The Reckless Moment fared no better.

Trivia: Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler. (ack: Terence Rafferty-The Criterion Collection 15 Sep’08 In the too-brief life and art of Max Ophuls)
Benny

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The film (Sous les toits de Paris in French) begins with a long crane shot panning along the rooftops and then descends along the street to linger on a group of people gathered around a singer, whose song (the title-song) gradually swells up on the soundtrack. The end of this film has this reversed. Sandwiched between these is a relaxed melodrama where a Parisian street singer (Albert Prejean) and his friend (Edmond Greville) pursue the love of the same woman (Pola Illery). In 1927, even before The Jazz Singer had been shown in Paris, René Clair wrote: “It is not without a shudder that one learns that some American manufacturers, among the most dangerous, see in the talking picture the entertainment of the future, and that they are already working to bring about this dreadful prophecy.” In 1929 the German film company Tobis established a studio at Épinay near Paris which was equipped for sound production and it inaugurated a policy of making French-speaking films in France rather than importing French performers to make French versions of films in Germany. The company concentrated on prestigious productions, and they recruited René Clair to undertake one of their first French projects with Sous les toits de Paris.
René Clair chose to use sound only when needed and his reluctance is far from a weakness but a strength in the manner he could retain the style and techniques of silent cinema: the viewer catches a conversation though cut off by the closing of a glass door without missing the nuances of what is said; the hour of midnight is indicated by the sound of a mere three chimes – and the superimposition of a clockface; and a knife-fight is shown but not heard because of a passing train, and continued in darkness (conveyed only by its sounds) until the headlights of a car illuminate the scene. “All Talking! All Singing!” label slapped across the posters for Under the Roofs of Paris in 1930 may have been false propaganda but the film nevertheless demonstrated an all talking and all singing film could not have come up anywhere half as good when the film was made by a genius. René Clair, then best known for Entr’acte (1924) thought sound could only undermine the complex visual language constructed by the silent cinema over three decades. Without fracturing its meaning(visual language) he reinforced his film with sound as those sound effects in a Marvel comics.
Clair avoided synchronization. You almost never see and hear something simultaneously, with the exception of the songs and the dialogue—and there is precious little dialogue. You hear music coming from a room, then the door closes in front of you and shuts the sound off. A train goes by, but you only know it from the soundtrack and a puff of smoke. In order to compare this let me refer to Pabst’s Pandora’s Box in which when Lulu and struggles with Dr. Schön and the gun goes off we see only a puff of smoke and not the report. Similarly at the end we do not see Jack the ripper actually using the knife. Instead the way her hold on Jack the ripper slackens tells forcibly what happened.
The film was shot at the time the effect of the financial crash of 29 was beginning to be felt around the world. Clair did not go for a surefire formula of escapism by setting the story in a mythical kingdom or take the worries of the public by subjecting them to zany mindless tomfoolery. Instead he chose the gritty Parisian squalor to give a touch of brightness on the denizens and he succeeded. Clair’s Paris,-every street and square, every tenement, garret, dancehall, and café was designed by Lazare Meerson who built it in the studio. But its characters, who live on the border between ill-paid labor and petty crime, were both instantly recognizable the world around and imbued with romance by the magic of Paris. In the decade that followed, that setting and those kinds of characters were to constitute the kernel of the French cinematic style called “poetic realism,” a principal architect of which was Marcel Carné, an assistant director on Under the Roofs of Paris. Even this day there is something nostalgic,- as well as simplicity, and it warms our hearts.
The camera work of Georges Périnal was of exceptional quality.
Plot
Albert meets a beautiful Romanian immigrant (Pola Illery), who is also desired by a criminal (Gaston Modot). Albert is arrested and locked up for a crime actually committed by the villain, and while he languishes in jail Pola meets Albert’s best friend (Edmond Gréville). When Albert is released he must confront both villainy and friendship.
‘What made it the toast of Berlin—and London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Moscow, and Buenos Aires, before finally clicking in its hometown—was its iconic vision of lower-class Paris, whose impact on the world was compared by the film historian Georges Sadoul to that of the first Westerns on European audiences…’
Run time: 92 min
Black and White
Trivia:
This marked the sixth and last of Clair’s films which featured the actor Albert Préjean. When it was shown in Paris, the cinema gave Préjean star billing in its advertisements and consequently the two men fell out.
*The future film director Edmond T. Gréville appeared as an actor in the role of Albert’s friend Louis.
* During the last weeks of filming, the art director Lazare Meerson hired a 23-year old Hungarian as a replacement in his team, Alexandre Trauner, who went on to work as designer on many major French films of the following decades. (Les Enfants du Paradis)
*Success of the film’s creation of a colorful working-class neighborhood gave rise to such films as La Rue sans nom (1934), La Belle Équipe (1936) and Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
* The film was discovered in Berlin (Aug 1930) and its triumph was repeated when the film appeared in New York and in London and other places. After its international acclaim, Sous les toits de Paris was released again in France and this time it enjoyed a real success on its home ground.
René Clair later recalled that the profits were such that the cost of the film, which was considerable, was covered by the returns from a single cinema.
(ack: Under the Roofs of Paris By Luc Sante /Criterion collection-23Sep02; wikipedia)

benny

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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.

Synopsis
‘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.’
Credits

* 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,

benny

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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

Cast
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

Credits
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
benny

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