At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
At Alliance Française on Friday, February 6: La Grande illusion / The Grand Illusion (1937) by Jean Renoir – 114 mins – France Drama/ War. Black and white. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 92 out of 100.
With Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay.
During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain de Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Maréchal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Maréchal and Rosenthal still want to escape.
– Alliance description
Calling on his own experiences as an aviator in WWI as well as those of his comrades, this is Jean Renoir's antiwar masterpiece.
Roger Ebert: It's a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization. Perhaps that was always a sentimental upper-class illusion, the notion that gentlemen on both sides of the lines subscribed to the same code of behavior. Whatever it was, it died in the trenches of World War I.
The film offers a call for universal brotherhood and a plea for sanity in a world that doesn't know how to settle things without going to war. There never has been a time of a lasting peace. The Grand Illusion title, one that can mean many things, most likely is derived from the illusionary nature of the war's slogan that this was "The War to End All Wars." It's based on a true story of men Renoir knew when he was in the French Resistance, who told him of their escapes.
Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels considered this film cinematic enemy number one, and tried to destroy all copies. Fortunately he didn't succeed. The negative was taken during the German occupation of France in WWII and retaken when the Red Army seized Berlin. The Reds stored it in a hidden archive; several prints over the years were released. But it wasn't until recently that it was put together as it was originally intended by Michel Rocher and Brigitte Dutray, who upgraded it through use of modern technology.
At Alliance Française on Friday, February 13: Le Quai des brumes / Port of Shadows (1938) by Marcel Carné – 91 mins – France Crime/ Drama/ Romance. Black and white. Generally favorable reviews: 79 out of 100.
With Jean Gabin, Michel Simon, Michèle Morgan, Pierre Brasseur.
A deserter encounters in a harbor a poor girl. They fall in love but he kills his girl-friend's tutor who wanted to rape her. At last he's killed himself by a hooligan and the ship he wanted to go aboard to escape goes away without him...
– Alliance description
TV Guide: This marvelous distillation of the prevailing mood in prewar France was the first feature to win critical acclaim for the directing-writing team of Marcel Carne and Jacques Prévert (who had collaborated on Jenny and Bizarre, Bizarre, and who would later create the beloved Children Of Paradise). Gabin plays a deserter who comes to the port of Le Havre looking for passage to a distant country. In a local dive he becomes attracted to Morgan, ward of the owner of a shop that is a front for illicit dealing. When Gabin comes to Simon's shop to buy a gift for Morgan, the evil Simon promises Gabin a passport and money if he will kill one of Simon's enemies. Gabin refuses. But hope for Gabin's escape comes when visionary artist Le Vigan gives the deserter his own passport before walking out on the quay and drowning himself.
A classic of French poetic realism, Port Of Shadows conveys a deeply fatalistic belief that humankind is at the mercy of malevolent fate, a message that is communicated both through the simple story line and through the superb fog-shrouded sets (the work of Alexander Trauner) and forbidding locations. Ironically, Port Of Shadows was originally to have been a German production. Carne was introduced to the Mac Orlan novel on which the picture is loosely based by Raoul Ploquin, then head of French productions at UFA in Berlin. Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels turned thumbs down on the project, however; he considered this story of a deserter to be decadent. The rights were sold to French producer Gregor Rabinovitch, who envisioned a lighter, happier film, and so quarreled constantly with Carne. Carne also had political problems within his own country, primarily with the French minister of war, who would not permit the word "deserter" to be used and insisted that Gabin's soldier's uniform be treated respectfully. As a result, writer Prévert was forced to deviate from the novel in almost every respect. Notably, in the book, Morgan's heroine is no tempest-tossed innocent; she is a prostitute who murders her pimp and ends up wealthy. Banned from being shown during the Nazi occupation of France.
At Alliance Française on Friday, February 20: La Bête humaine / The Human Beast (1938) by Jean Renoir – 100 mins – France Drama. Black and white. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 79 out of 100.
With Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Fernard Ledoux.
Séverine and her husband Roubaud kill their former employer on a train. Jacques an engineer witnesses the murder but does not report them to the police as he is deeply in love with Severine. However, during an epileptic fit, he kills her...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Made at the height of poetic realism in the French cinema, La Bête humaine is an adaptation of Emile Zola's classic work, starring Jean Gabin as railroad engineer Jacques Lantier. He lusts after Severine (Simone Simon), the lovely wife of stationmaster Robaud (Fernand Ledoux), but has kept his desire in check. While riding on Lantier's train, Robaud threatens to expose Severine's wealthy and powerful godfather, Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz), for having violated his goddaughter when she was 16. Grandmorin threatens to ruin Robaud so the stationmaster kills the older man. Although Lantier is a witness, he fails to speak up when the wrong man, Cabuche (Jean Renoir), is indicted because of his feeling for Severine. Eager to ensure the engineer's silence, Robaud insists that Severine become his lover. Lantier does not require extensive persuasion. At length, Grandmorin is exposed and the ingenuous Cabuche is freed. But over time Severine has come to love Lantier. At this point she asks him to kill her husband so they can be together. But Lantier, overwhelmed by revulsion toward all that has come before, refuses to comply with her wishes. Gabin is utterly convincing as the tormented lover in this magnificently atmospheric tale of crime and passion.