The Key of Songs

This is the ending of Marcel Carné’s JULIETTE, OU LA CLEF DES SONGES. Don’t watch it if you don’t want to see what happens at ending of Marcel Carné’s JULIETTE, OU LA CLEF DES SONGES.

Why is it here, on Shadowplay, in Sexy Week? Just because of Gerard Philipe, I guess. When Fiona first saw him, in René Clair’s LA BEAUTE DU DIABLE, she struggled to concentrate on the film because Philipe was so lovely. It helped that he was playing the devil, with cute little horns in his hair…

GP does actually look a bit like a cartoon frog, I think. In cartoons, they often give frogs necks, slender and elegant ones. It was Chuck Jones who observed the essential necklessness of the true frog, and captured in in his seminal toon ONE FROGGY EVENING. But with his slender neck and big, wide eyes, GP is like an attractive cartoon frog that’s transformed into a handsome prince, maybe just retaining a little trace of frogginess as a reminder of his humble pond-based origins. Which makes him all the more endearing.

I’m also sharing this scene with you because it’s a hard film to see, and because there’s a general idea that Carné stopped being of any interest when he stopped collaborating with his screenwriter on the early works, Jacques Prevert. I haven’t seen enough later Carné, just this one (which I think was the first movie my benshi film describer friend David Wingrove translated for me), and LA VISITE MARVELLEUSE, but they’re both very interesting and certainly in keeping with Carné’s poetic and romantic sensibility. And LES PORTES DE LA NUIT, the last completed Carné-Prevert collaboration, which flopped at the box office and has the reputation of being an artistic failure, is a KICK-ASS piece of poetic realism. Just DEVASTATING. It might actually be my favourite of all their films.

In this scene, our hero tries to return to the fantastical Wonderland/Oz/Neverland of Juliette. He succeeds.. at a price.

10 Responses to “The Key of Songs”

  1. Hi
    nice post about one of my favourite Carne movies.
    a link towards a special french magazine from 1952 entirely about this movie !

  2. I know exactly how Fiona feels. Like Jean Marais, Gerard Philipe was incredibly beautiful AND a great actor. That’s a combination that can’t be beat, as Carne well knew. He’s teriffic here as he “meets his fate” with a very Jean Gabin resolve.

    See also Becker’s Montparnasse 19 where he plays Modigliani (in what was planned as Ophuls “comeback” after Lola Montes) Les Liasons Dangereuses (one of Vadmi’s few REALLY good movies) and Bunuel’s Fever Mounts in El Pao — his swan song.

    “Songes” BTW are dreams.

  3. Thanks for the link!

    Thanks for the correction! I knew that, I just forgot that I knew that.

    Philipe is another reason to rediscover French films from before the nouvelle vague.

  4. The clip from JULIETTE looks fantastic, thanks for giving us a glimpse of a film that as you say is so hard to see. I acquired LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS just recently, because I’d read that it was the quintessential Poetic Realist film. I’ve watched it once, but I must see it again to fully take it all in. My personal favorite is still QUAI DES BRUMES, and I’m dying to see HOTEL DU NORD. Also, I’ve been an admirer of Louis Jouvet ever since I’d seen him in QUAI DES ORFEVRES, and after that LES BAS-FONDS (The Lower Depths).

  5. Hotel du Nord gives Jouvet a great role, and Annabella is wonderfully alluring. Arletty steals the show though.
    I really can’t get my head around the fact that Les Visiteurs du Soir is hard to see, a masterpiece of enormous importance historically, and a fascinating comparison-piece to A Matter of Life and Death (visitors from the afterlife who can stop time, etc…) I’m lucky enough to have a decent copy of it now, but why can’t everyone?

  6. yes i know it’s unfair to you that these french films “pre-nouvelle vague” are so hard to see with englisht subtitles.
    JULIETTE was one of Carne’s favourite movie btw.
    i know that a japanese dvd was released 4 years ago but without any english subtitles and as the common knowledge between movie critics that this movie is a failure, i doubt that you’ll see an english release someday. sadly because it’s a very beautiful, despairing & quite romantic movie that deserves so much better.
    the only way for you is to look for illegal ways to see it i guess.
    thanks for your post david anyway. (i put a link on my website).

  7. Perhaps one day the folks at Criterion will get around to it, one can hope. I’m still waiting for them to direct their attention to Carol Reed’s ODD MAN OUT, John Huston’s WISE BLOOD (they released his UNDER THE VOLCANO not long ago) as well as others that don’t come immediately to mind. Has anyone out there seen Criterion’s release of Paul Schrader’s MISHIMA? One of the most gorgeous packaging jobs I’ve ever seen, everything about this item is stunning, film, soundtrack, supplements, etc.

  8. If a company decided to release a small line of French classics from this period they could publicise it very easily and build up a following, since most people who enjoy Carne are likely to enjoy Duvivier, etc.

    I just got a (non-Criterion) copy of Under the Volcano and am looking forward to watching it. It seems that most of Huston’s “bad” movies are really rather good. A Walk With Love and Death is terrific. Wise Blood certainly deserves a definitive release.

  9. By the way, Dietrich and Gabin were Carne’s first choices for the parts played by Nathalie Nattier and Yves Montand in Les Portes de la Nuit. In his bio of Carne, entitled Child of Paradise (1989), author Edward Baron Turk writes, in reference to Nattier and Montand, “Neither had the authority to project the world-weariness required by the script. Under Carne’s direction, neither was able to activate a credible erotic field that could justify their characters’ relationship.” Both Dietrich and Gabin had originally agreed to play the parts, and both ended up breaking their agreements. The author also states, “In denying herself to Carne, Dietrich also impaired his sustaining the international prominence acquired in the wake of Les Enfants du Paradis: whatever failings Les Portes de la Nuit might have displayed, Dietrich’s presence in a Carne film would have guaranteed attention worldwide.” Not having seen the film, I can’t weigh in one way or the other as to which pairing would have best suited it. However, I somehow think that Dietrich and Gabin’s star-power might have done just that, overpowered a film that ultimately contained two lesser-knowns (at the time, of course).

  10. I love the idea of any film uniting Gabin and Dietrich, but Les Portes gets by fine without them. I suspect the decision was made, once they jumped ship, to go with younger and less worldly players, because this is actually more suited to the story’s purpose.

    It would have been an odd star vehicle, since it’s virtually an ensemble film. I don’t see how anyone can fail to be wowed by the scene where, discussing their travels before they met each other, they realise they’ve both been to Easter Island, and she actually saw his initials carved on a statue there. (Did she add her own? Something like that, maybe.)

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