Belle of New York
Rainy days in New York City! Guy Budziak, of hardier stock than I, strode through the downpour with unflinching determination, as we sloshed our way to MoMA for the screening of Julien Duvivier’s LA BELLE EQUIPE. (I can’t even talk about LA TETE D’UN HOMME yet, that one’s just too good.) New York looks strange underwater, the ripples refracting off the steel and glass, swordfish, sharks and clownfish gliding silently between the stalled yellowcabs, swirling towers of bubbles from the sewers replacing the escaping steam fetishised by Scorsese.
Somehow Duvivier’s sad tale of five friends who win the lottery with a joint ticket and attempt to open a riverside open-air ballroom, only to see their dreams crushed one by one — somehow this film has become irrevocably associated with the days of the Popular Front in France, despite flopping on first release, and then flopping again when re-released with a happier ending, which would seem to suggest it was irretrievably out of step with the times, rather that a zeitgeist-encapsulating film of the moment.
MoMA kindly showed both endings, and provided some contextual information about the film’s unavailability for copyright reasons, a situation we must hope is resolved soon. But I’d sooner see LA TETE published on DVD, as that one’s a real masterpiece. Are you listening, Criterion?
EQUIPE has definite pleasures, with snappy dialogue, a smooth tonal shift from light to dark, Jean Gabin shouting, singing and carousing, and a guest appearance by Robert Lynen, the young star of the 1930s POIL DE CAROTTE. Viviane Romance, later of PANIQUE, plays a classic Duvivier tramp (a misogynist streak is emerging in the Great Director) who ruins men’s lives and gets away with it (which makes a refreshing change).
Photo taken illgeally by the author at MoMA: nothing to do with LA BELLE EQUIPE, seems to be a silent German version of Stevenson’s The Suicide Club.
After the tragic developments of LBE, it was a joy to find the sun shining as we emerged from the bowels of MoMA (where the rumbling of subway trains sometimes enhanced the shots of steam locomotives in the movie). Then I got back to the flat and learned I was too late to catch STAR TREK with friends, but on the plus side, the evening looms, and my host’s apartment is full of movies…