Posts Tagged ‘Marcel Carné’

It was Oscar Wilde who set out to show purpose of art and life are entirely different things. Art according to him has no moral duty to make life nobler or meaningful anymore than life lived in a certain manner can redeem artists to create masterpieces . Far from art imitating life Wilde holds that art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art. “there may have been fogs for centuries in London”, people have only “seen” the “wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas lamps and turning houses into shadows” because “poets and painters have taught [people] the loveliness of such effects”. “They did not exist”, asserts Wilde, “till Art had invented them.( Decay of Lying )” Do we not conjure up the starry sky of Van Gogh when we see the night sky? Emotional impact of the Dutch artist is a supreme example of art that can extend our vision and for me it is a good thing to accept every day life seen at an altered state, as it were. It does not make my aches and pains any less than that are, a natural ageing body heir to. I can at least console myself that I live among the greatest, the best and loveliest tokens of the feast of life though being dyspeptic I may not touch anything other than dry bread and lentil soup.
This evening I listened to Puccini’s Tosca and I could not help thinking how the music could transport me as easily to an altered state as though I was hearing it for the first time! It is a tale of revenge and lust in which Baron Scarpia lusts for Tosca and in the heart of intrigue is the lover of Tosca who is condemned to die before a firing squad. The hapless man looking at the stars fading off one by one as the dawn breaks, sings an exquisite aria E lustevan stele. It brought me memories of a film Le Jour sa Leve that had moved me intensely. Gabin a working class hero is cornered in his claustrophobic room in which every object takes on a special significance. The cigarette and smoke spiral that goes up is harbinger of doom. It is only matter of hours before the police are going to shoot him dead. Whenever I see it in my mind’s eye I recall the music from opera as though it belongs there.
Aesthetics of art has ability to alter the tenor of life where man’s responses to his environment can be made more intense since his resources are drawn from secret recesses to which reality has no clue whatsoever.


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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.
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
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)


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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.

‘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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