Happy New Year!
Your Pathe-Natan film of the week. Raymond Bernard, who made the truly great PN films WOODEN CROSSES and LES MISERABLES, started his career at the company with FAUBOURG-MONTMARTRE, which somewhat defeated my benshi translator David Wingrove since the copy I’d obtained had pretty cruddy sound. Add to that the vagaries of early thirties recording and early thirties French slang, and you have a film that’s pretty hard to understand — and it might be hard to understand even if you had perfect audio and spoke 1930s French like a native.
The romantic plot inexplicably yields sway to a riotous fire festival in a small town, in which the lovers are burned in effigy by no less a figure than Antonin Artaud — if you’re going to have a burning at the stake in your movie, qua THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, Artaud will turn up, it seems. I suspect his toothsome shade mingled among the crowds attending Edward Woodward’s immolation in THE WICKER MAN, perhaps pausing to pinch Britt Ekland’s bum.
Bernard flings himself into the festivities, concocting an expressionistic frenzy that ends with an anthropomorphic building like something from a Fleischer brothers cartoon. Then the film goes back to normal, the villagers say they didn’t mean any harm, and shortly afterwards the film just kind of stops. Was the director wrong to build this sequence up so much that it ruptures the surrounding movie? Perhaps not, since the surrounding movie is kind of dull by comparison, and this sequence is AMAZING.