Archive for Pepe le Moko

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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Modesty Forbids…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 4, 2008 by dcairns

…but if someone out there would like to head over to the Criterion Collection Forum and put in a mention of my Great Duvivier Giveaway, maybe we can promote the idea of a Criterion release for LA FIN DU JOUR.

It has been pointed out to me that the G.D.G. kinda-sorta violates international copyright law, but (a) I will stop giving away free DVDs if somebody releases the film on DVD with subtitles and (b) if I get people excited about this film, maybe it can get an official release and the copyright holder can make some money out of it. Pleasingly, none of the film enthusiasts I’ve heard from via the blog give two figs for international copyright law.

Criterion seems like a good bet because they’re really good, and they also released Duvivier’s PEPE LE MOKO, the only one of his French films to really have a profile and reputation at present (in substantial part due to their making it available). They’ve also released several Clouzots and are bringing out Christian-Jaque’s FANFAN LA TULIPE, a riproaring swashbuckling comedy that’s a great deal of fun. So they seem to have the right mind-set.

One of the things we lose out on by not having films from this period in abundance is the ability to enjoy gorgeous actors of genius like Gerard Philippe (how much of his oeuvre is out on disc? Very little, I fear) and Micheline Presle, and character stars like Louis Jouvet and Michel Simon. Even much of Brigitte Bardot’s best work is impossible to see, although one would think that would be commercial enough.

Oh, and if everybody with a blog or discussion board or e-zine could mention this fabulous free offer too, that’d be nice.

Some of you in the UK should have your discs by now — sign in below and let me know if you have. We’ll have another post later where we can discuss the appalling quality of the DVD and the excellent quality of the film…

The End of Their Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2008 by dcairns

Truffaut once told Marcel Carné that Carné’s LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS was worth more than his own entire oeuvre. Carné replied, “It’s a shame you’re not a critic anymore.”

The reason for this bad grace is easy enough to see. During his days at Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut had been persistently negative about Carné and most of his contemporaries (Renoir alone could do no wrong). Although there was considerable variation among the Cahiers critics (Godard liked one René Clair film, LE QUATORZE JUILLET, for its portrayal of working-class holiday activities, but Truffaut hated them all), a broad general consensus could be found. Carné, Clair, Clouzot, Duvivier, Yves and Marc Allégret, Christian-Jacque and Claude Autant-Lara represented the paternalistic, old-fashioned “cinema du papa”, or “tradition of quality”. The goal was to destroy this brand of filmmaking (Rivette awarded a symbolic “bullet” to every Duvivier film released during his time at Cahiers — the bullet means “You’d be better off staying home than seeing this,” but it obviously has another, even more hostile implication).

In fact, Cahiers was always a pretty small-circulation magazine, and although the attacks on France’s sacred cows got plenty of attention, they certainly didn’t finish anyone’s career. Even René Clair, who withdrew from cinema with a feeling of having outlived his time, didn’t do so until the mid-sixties, some time after the Cahiers broadsides started.

The movement of Cahiers critics into film-making had a greater effect on the old guard. Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and Rivette demonstrated in film what they could only argue in print, that it was time for more modern techniques and younger blood. In addition, the whole cultural scene was moving on, so that even without those iconoclasts, filmmakers who had been active since the ’20s were starting to look out of touch.

And it’s true that many of the old guard were no longer making their very best work. The infusion of freshness brought by the nouvelle vague cannot be underestimated: it must have been like the coming of rock ‘n’ roll. But the very politique des auteurs which they represented can be used to argue that film culture would have been richer if the cinema du papa crowd had all been allowed to continue making films alongside the new guys. It’s possible the nouvelle vague thought so too: Truffaut made his generous remark to Carné after his own directing career was in full bloom. Mostly hostile to Clouzot in reviews, he later paid tribute to LE CORBEAU and urged the director to return to filmmaking, resulting in the neglected masterpiece LA PRISONNIERE, a tale of kinky sexual shenanigans among the kinetic art set:

When you get into a director, it can lead you to appreciate the lesser films for their role in the body of work as a whole. Sometimes, what look like failures can assume greater stature in the light of the rest of the corpus. Certainly, only hardcore Hawksians treasure the director’s later works like RED LINE 7000, which is likely to seem extremely old-fashioned for a 1965 movie unless you go into it with a sympathetic eye for the filmmaker’s trademark concerns and mannerisms. Some will even place this film maudit amongst Hawks’ best achievements, and make a solid case.

Similarly, it’s undoubtedly a Good Thing that Chabrol and Godard and Rivette are still with us and still making films, along with contemporaries like Varda and Marker.

I haven’t seen Carné’s last film, 1977’s LA BIBLE (the film of the book?) but his 1974 LA VISITE MARVELLEUSE, a sort of hippy version of an H.G. Wells story, is very lovely. It has the same love of the fantastic and the same doomed romanticism of classic WWII-era Carné. Based on that, I’d like him to have made more late films. I’d even like to see his much-derided juvie delinquent drama LES TRICHEURS (1958).

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Julien Duvivier is a filmmaker I have a special affection for. He kept going despite the change in fashions until his death aged 70 in a car crash. I suspect he represented a special offense to the Cahiers boys, since he spoke of himself as a craftsman and always gave principle credit to his writers, notably Charles Spaak and Henri Jeanson. He was as far from the politique des auteurs as you can get. I think he’s a marvellous filmmaker, and I deplore the absence of most of his French-language work from the marketplace. PEPE LE MOKO is rightly hailed as a masterpiece of the poetic realist school, and available on a magnificent Criterion disc, but apart from the (justly acclaimed) American films, it’s nearly impossible to appreciate any of his works unless you speak French. Even in France the number of his films available is pitiful. For this reason alone, the Cahiers/nouvelle vague attacks are to be regretted: Duvivier’s reputation has slipped into the shade, with the result that it’s extremely hard to see his films and reassess them.

From AU BONHEURS DES DAMES — an eeeaaarly Duvivier.

Well, maybe it’s hard for one blog to make much of a difference in the face of 40 years of neglect, but we do what we can. Starting shortly, THE GREAT DUVIVIER GIVEAWAY will attempt to popularise and reclaim from history a 1939 masterpiece that’s been shunted into the sidings of obscurity. Watch this space and CLAIM YOUR FREE FILM, and your place in nothing less than the rewriting of movie history.