Thursday, June 04, 2015


1959, France, directed by Julien Duvivier

A quite wonderful cast here: Darrieux, Blier, Ventura, Meurisse, Reggiani and more, and they're all very much up to par even when typecast (Ventura, for example, although the script attempts to add a degree of nuance). The storyline involves a former Resistance network reuniting to deal with accusations that, 15 years before, there was a traitor in their midst: as David Cairns has remarked, casting Darrieux as a Resistance hero was rather daring in itself given her own less-glorious wartime record. That casting choice is one of the aspects that provides a fascinating glimpse into how France was dealing with wartime memory in the late 1950s -- the résistants here are no caricature heroes but in most cases people who had to compromise at one level or another.

The staging, by Duvivier, brings things to another level: the entire film takes place on a single evening in a single location and it's a technical challenge to have the large cast move around as the action reaches its various peaks. Clusters of people move from one place to another, sometimes very theatrically, but Duvivier effectively creates a sense of claustrophobia and also elects to film many of the shots from below, which creates a real sense of disorientation. I was especially intrigued by one unusual device the director employs: the only glimpse of the outside world is a televised wrestling match that parallels the verbal jousts (indeed most of the characters insist on turning the television sound down -- a point of petty contention throughout), and which provides its own kind of absurdist commentary on the film's action.  

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States