Archive for Jean Gabin

The Plan

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2019 by dcairns

So, Edinburgh International Film Festival is just starting but we cannot attend! Today, critic and lady novelist Anne Billson arrives from the continent to flat-sit, cat-sit and attend on our behalf — interested parties can see and hear her in The Science of Scary panel discussion.

We jet off for Bologna first thing, or slightly before first thing, tomorrow morning. The fest there, Il Cinema Ritrovato, does not get started properly until Saturday, but on the Friday we have the opportunity to see a new documentary about Jean Gabin, and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, newly restored. I’m hoping it’ll have the correct poster-paint blue skies and the mismatched dusk shots at the end will be lovingly preserved.

But I’m also tempted by a documentary about six P.A.’s from the glory days of Italian cinema — already this festival is offering tantalising choices!

Stoney Faced

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2015 by dcairns

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LE MURA DI MALAPAGA is Rene Clement’s 1949 Franco-Italian co-production, a neatly bilingual movie with Jean Gabin as a fugitive in post-war Genoa. It’s also a kind of compendium of Gabin’s greatest hits: he’s on the run for murdering his lover, making it play like either a sequel to GUEULE D’AMOUR or an alternative reality version of LA BANDERA. The city becomes his prison, with shots explicitly evoking the urban cage of PEPE LE MOKO ~

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And the poetic realist brand of pessimistic romance and fatalism is everywhere, almost offensively so. It could easily feel too calculated, but there are some striking and particular qualities to this film which help give it originality…

We first meet Gabin hiding out shipboard in that little metal room where they keep the anchor chain. Like where that sailor dies in Lewton’s THE GHOST SHIP. He’s been there in the dark for three days with a toothache, as wince-inducing an analog for hell as I can imagine. So as he determines to risk his neck by going ashore in search of a dentist, I was more than usually inclined to sympathise.

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Gabin’s plan is to get his tooth fixed and then turn himself in, but he gets his pocket picked and has to threaten the dentist into operating — without anaesthetic. Having had his immediate problem fixed, he feels hungry. Waiting in the police station for a French-speaker he can explain his situation to, he loses patience and heads to the nearest restaurant. He figures he can eat a hearty meal and then, in lieu of payment, get the proprietor to call the cops, and it’ll all be the same anyway. But in the restaurant he finds love…

Oh yes, we’re also in QUAI DES BRUMES territory — it’s a great plot engine, the character who has to get out of town in a hurry, and finds a way to do so, but simultaneously makes an emotional connection which prevents him. Although the love story, featuring Isa Miranda (from Ophuls’ LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI) as the waitress with a young daughter (the affecting Vera Talchi: Clement was always good with kids) is quite touching, the fatalism seems more a genre requirement than something Clement is enthusiastic about, and it makes things fizzle where they could have sparkled. But the other strength the film has its environment.

Vera Talchi.

Gabin in his steel shoebox full of massive chain-links at the start cued me to expect another film about metal, like BATAILLE DU RAIL, but this is actually a film about walls (like SATYRICON), variously crumbling, towering and teetering. Smashed statuary and worn steps. Genoa, as shown here, resembles both Piranesi’s infinite prisons and Chirico’s depopulated, abstract urban expanses, frightening and colossal and ancient, perpetually collapsing into rubble yet seemingly determined to stand forever in defiance of time.

A bit like Gabin’s craggy features, no longer conducive to the romantic Hollywood lighting of PEPE LE MOKO (a slash of luminescence across the glittering eyes), already rapidly assuming the quilted hangdog folds of the later years, or decades even. Maybe the fatalism sits less well here since the aged Gabin always suggested a stubborn hostility to the idea of succumbing to time’s bludgeoning blows. Battered, even bowed, but still trudging onwards.

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Pork Suitcases Over Paris

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on September 14, 2013 by dcairns

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Having very much enjoyed Claude Autant-Lara’s L’AUBERGE ROUGE, we turned with enthusiasm to LA TRAVERSEE DE PARIS aka FOUR BAGS FULL unofficially aka PIGS ACROSS PARIS, made in 1956 but set during the Occupation. Black market meat man Bourvil reluctantly takes on a new partner, Jean Gabin, to help him transport a newly dismembered pig across town in four suitcases to a buyer in Montmartre. Gabin proves to be a temperamental and dangerous co-conspirator in the midnight meat trade.

When did Gabin change from the muscular hero of MOONTIDE, whose physique impressed me no end, to the bulbous curmudgeon here? He looks like a Drew Friedman cartoon of Gerard Depardieu. Still, his ability to explode like a fleshy Hindenburg is undiminished by the passage of years and the accretion of bulk. Bourvil is both a droll comedian and a gifted actor, well-matched in his hangdog lassitude to his ebullient companion.

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One thing that’s a little disconcerting is the volume of the playing — quite apart from several scenes where everybody yells at the top of their lungs, the theatrical performance style Autant-Lara encourages in his comedies seems an awkward fit to a story about subterfuge — in loud voices, our two heroes debate business strategies for their criminal venture while trudging deserted streets after dark where police and military patrols can, and do, appear at any moment. The only thing to do with this unrealistic quality is get used to it — maybe it helps that the sets are beautifully unreal too,

The script, by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost  (heroes of Tavernier’s wartime film industry saga LAISSEZ-PASSER, and regular screenwriters for his films) juggles the dark and the light with surprising dexterity and daring. Autant-Lara, late in life, became a far-right member of the European parliament and was successfully sued for Holocaust denial. His writers steer him away from any such monstrosity, But there’s an edgy moment where Gabin is threatened with denunciation by nasty bartenders and then threatens to denounce them in turn for employing a Jewish girl as slave labour. It’s the first strong hint that things are going to turn dark.

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And they do — but this is followed by the worst tacked-on Hollywood ending since UNCLE HARRY. Best to disregard that altogether, which leaves us with a shockingly grim slap-in-the-face of a conclusion. Much better.