At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
At Alliance Française on Friday, June 26: Casque d'or / Golden Helmet / Golden Marie (1952) by Jacques Becker – 96 mins – France, Crime/ Drama/ Romance. B&W. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84 out of 100.
With Simone Signoret, Claude Dauphin, Serge Reggiani, Raymond Bussieres, Gaston Modot, William Sabatier.
1898. The magnificent love between Marie, nicknamed Casque d’Or, and a carpenter named Manda. Marie was the girlfriend of one of the hoodlums of Leca’s gang. Manda faces and defies the gang, kills Leca...
– Alliance description
FilmsdeFrance.com: Arguably Jacques Becker’s best and most famous film, Casque d’Or illustrates perhaps more than any of his films his unique conception of film-making.
Becker’s main preoccupation is to capture through the medium of film the essence of human life – the pleasures, the torments, the triumphs, the defeats – without relying on traditional theatrical or cinematographic devices. This is most apparent in the initial meeting between Manda and Marie, where hardly any words are exchanged but it is clear, from the body language of the two characters, beautifully photographed, that the two people are instantly attracted to one another.
Indeed, so effective is the photography and so powerful are the acting performances that Casque d’Or would have succeeded even if all of the dialogue had been cut. What dialogue there is serves simply to reinforce what is being captured on film.
Becker’s Paris of the early 1900s is in stark contrast to that of other film directors of the 1950s (most notably Renoir in French Cancan) – and indeed contrasts vividly with Becker’s own chocolate-box version in his later film, Les aventures d’Arsène Lupin. In Casque d’Or we are treated to a multi-layered, almost schizophrenic, view of the city. There is the traditional view of Paris at the time of the Belle Epoch, swaying to the tune of dance hall music and accordions, where lovers dance in each others arms under flickering gas lights. But, beneath this comforting exterior, there lurks a darker, more menacing city, where duels to the death are enacted in back streets, where crimes of passion are committed in darkened shadows, where convicted criminals are escorted to the gallows by police. Becker’s Paris is the perfect setting for a tragic love story and the realism it affords heightens the emotional impact by several degrees.
It is not possible to write a review of Casque d’Or without reference to its central star, the incredible Simone Signoret. In this film, the legendary French actress is at her most beautiful and engaging, and she fits the part of Marie so well that it is difficult to believe that the role was not conceived with her in mind. Signoret works perfectly with Becker’s agenda – a minimalist performance which delivers the maximum impact through a combination of facial expression, gestures, and restrained dialogue.
Simone Signoret lights up every scene she enters, no matter how grim, like an angel of deliverance. The final shot at the end of the film when she is compelled to witness her lover’s fate is one of the most tragic and moving in cinema history.
Rotten Tomatoes: Starring international sex symbol Simone Signoret, Casque d'or is often considered director Jacques Becker's masterpiece. Becker was an assistant to the legendary Jean Renoir, and Renoir's influence on Becker is readily apparent in this poetic, impressionist film. Signoret plays Marie, the girlfriend of a minor gangster, who falls in love with a working man. Their love affair leads to a power struggle within the gang and speeds everyone inexorably towards tragedy. Casque d'or features a diligent and careful production design that recreates Paris of the late 19th century, and was based on actual criminal cases from that era. Though dismissed on its initial release in 1952, aside from a BAFTA acting award for Signoret, the critical reputation of Casque d'or grew in subsequent years and is now generally considered one of France's great artistic films.
At Alliance Française on Friday, July 3: La marche de l'empereur / March of the Penguins / The Emperor's Journey (2005) by Luc Jacquet – 85 mins – France, Documentary/ Family. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 79/78 out of 100. Note: This is the original French version, not the US release with Morgan Freeman narrating.
With Charles Berling, penguin father's voice; Romane Bohringer, penguin mother's voice; Jules Sitruk, penguin baby's voice.
A film on the annual journey of Emperor penguins as they march, single file, to their traditional breeding ground in the Antarctic...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Coming from a French director, Luc Jacquet, the miraculous March of the Penguins would have to be a love story. And so it is. The film explores the mating rituals of the emperor penguin, one of the most resilient animals on earth. Each summer, after a nourishing period of deep-sea feeding, the penguins pop up onto the ice and begin their procession across the frozen tundra of Antarctica. Walking doggedly in single file, they are a sight to behold. Hundreds converge from every direction, moving instinctively toward their mating ground. Once there, they mingle and chatter until they find the perfect mate--a monogamous match that will last a year, through the brutal winter and into the spring. During that time, the mother will give birth to an egg and then leave for the ocean to feed again. The father will stay to protect the egg through the freezing blizzards and pure darkness of winter, which would be deadly to practically any other species. Finally, with spring, the egg hatches and the baby penguins are born. Mothers return from the sea to reunite with their families and feed the starving newborns, while the fathers are finally relieved of their protective duties after months without food. This remarkable story is narrated by Morgan Freeman [not in this version], whose dignified voice gives the penguins the grave admiration they deserve. But even more incredible is the photography, which shows the penguins hunting underwater, sliding on the ice, and even what definitely looks like kissing. At one point the camera even zooms inside the mouth of a penguin as it regurgitates food for its young. A story of love and, more strikingly, survival, March of the Penguins is a stirring, eye-opening, and educational experience.
At Alliance Française on Friday, July 10: Le papillon / The Butterfly (2002) by Philippe Muyl – 85 mins – France, Comedy/ Drama. English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 64/66 out of 100.
With Michel Serrault, Claire Bouanich, Nade Dieu,Françoise Michaud,Hélène Hily.
Julien, an aging and cranky widower, collects butterflies. Isabelle and her eight-year-old daughter Elsa have just moved into his apartment building. The young mother is usually out, and lonely little Elsa starts visiting Julien. One day, Julien decides to go to the breathtaking Vercors plateau in search for a rare breed of butterfly, the Isabelle. He thinks he is alone, but young Elsa has managed to tag along on the trip. The little girl asks tons of questions, upsetting the tranquility that the old man longed for...
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Writer-director Philippe Muyl delivers this tender French family drama about an unlikely bond that forms between a young girl and her elderly neighbor. Michel Serrault (Le Cage aux folles) is Julien, an aging butterfly collector who leads a quiet life. But when Elsa (Claire Bouanich) moves into the apartment above him, Julien's life takes on a new trajectory. Neglected by her mother, the inquisitive eight-year-old attaches herself to Julien and convinces him to take her on a trip to the mountains to try to locate Isabelle, a beautiful but elusive butterfly. At first skeptical, Julien relents--thinking that Elsa's mother has left her alone in the apartment--and the pair embark on their journey. As the journey unfolds, Julien shows Elsa the attention that she's been craving, and Elsa gives Julien a new lease on life, helping him to see the world through more innocent eyes. Back at home, Elsa's mother Isabelle (Nade Dieu) is shocked to discover that her daughter has disappeared. A near-tragedy brings the situation to a head, teaching each of the characters a very valuable lesson about life and love. Directed with extreme sensitivity by Muyl, The Butterfly features standout performances from the always reliable Serrault and newcomer Bouanich.
DVD available from Amazon.com.