Tuesday, July 17, 2012


1946, France, directed by Marcel Blistène (and Jacques Feyder)

Claude Chabrol, in a long interview in Cahiers du cinéma, grouped Macadam together with Duvivier's Panique and Impasse des Deux Anges as three extraordinarily bleak postwar films, made at a time in France's history when -- as he saw it -- one might have expected a rather more hopeful mood to prevail. I'm not sure that his thesis is all that carefully thought-through -- the US produced some pretty downbeat fare during the same period, after all, while France was coming to terms with a terrible national trauma, a theme to which Chabrol returned in several of his films, but he's certainly on the money that these are three films with a frequently grim take on human nature.

Macadam begins with an off-kilter shot that gives an early indication of its skewed world-view -- even an apparently innocuous bit of domestic business becomes imbued with a sense of unease as the camera cants to the side, and such angles proliferate as the film progresses and we're introduced to the residents of a Paris hotel that holds little of the bonhomie of the pre-war tel du Nord.

Françoise Rosay was never averse to playing less than sympathetic characters, though her turn as the hotel proprietor here is as jaundiced as they come, a woman who uses all of her wiles to survive, and who blithely uses her own daughter as a servant (where Arletty might have made such a survivor sympathetic, Rosay makes no attempt to paper over the flaws). There's a scene where the younger woman unexpectedly expresses affection for her mother that carries a deep frisson, as though we're privy to the moment when the daughter's Stockholm syndrome reaches its apogee, and the finale scene suggests that the apple has indeed stayed pretty close to the tree.

Rosay's character has no monopoly on misbehaviour -- when Paul Meurisse shows up with a briefcase in hand and asks Rosay to keep an eye on it, it doesn't take a genius to deduce that he may be up to no good. Meurisse played some light-hearted parts during his career, but it's the men from the darker side that stick in the memory -- the casual killer from this film, the sadist from Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, or the melancholy safe-cracker in Impasse des Deux Anges.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States