Monday, February 01, 2016

Chotard et compagnie


1933, France, directed by Jean Renoir

Despite the substantial corpus of writing devoted to Renoir, there are few words on this particular film, a surprise as I found it generally charming and technically quite compelling. It occasionally reminded me of Die Koffer des Herrn O.F., especially in the second half, as an entire town buys into a particular obsession (complete with dream sequences). It was really the opening that grabbed me, though, with the first shot part of a long lineage of bravura openers, and the film is mostly made on a set that permits a great deal of easy movement, the camera peering behind corners, through windows, and generally keeping an eye on characters as they move around the space. 

Chotard himself is played by Fernand Charpin, such a key presence in Pagnol's Marseilles trilogy, and he's a delight here, too. The plot is driven by the marriage of Chotard's daughter to an unpromising fellow, a writer played by Georges Pomiès, a name wholly unfamiliar to me, but from his movement it wasn't hard to figure out that he was trained as a dancer, and indeed that this was his primary vocation. He's not a great choice for the part but his background certainly adds an interesting energy to the character, granting him an unexpected and graceful physical presence. As a casting selection, it reminded me a little of the offbeat energy of Jean-Louis Barrault in Drôle de drame, though that's a more successful marriage. Which in turn reminds that I took a reflexive dislike to Pomiès when I discovered that he had won Louis Jouvet's lover Lisa Duncan away from the great actor (though of course she may have been the one who effected the change). 

While the whole thing is based on a pre-existing play, I couldn't help but wonder if there was a reference to Simenon -- with whom Renoir remained friendly after the director adapted one of the Maigret novels -- when the characters discuss an industrial-scale production of literature, of a kind that Simenon himself would have had no trouble keeping up with given his book-a-month rhythm. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

On purge bébé


1931, France, directed by Jean Renoir

A film that Renoir by all accounts made to show his ability to film with sound on a budget, in order to impress potential producers. Obviously, though, he was already an experienced filmmaker and despite the film's pretty straightforward nature he clearly spent at least some time working on direct sound, use of diegetic music, and, from time to time, on the framing of actors' faces, although some of the film is shot in a theatrical format that underlines the picture's stage origins. The most interesting points, for me, were on the casting level -- an exceptionally early, blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance from Fernandel, and, far more substantial, an amusing turn from Michel Simon, already cast in roles far beyond his years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Toni


1935, France, directed by Jean Renoir

A very interesting on-location picture, clearly made under the influence of Pagnol in terms of the southern realism on display (Pagnol's company was involved with the film, but as distributor rather than producer). There's little optimism here in this deliberately circular tale -- the contrast between the larkish beginning and the pessimism of the conclusion is very stark, and in many ways the film has a modernity that Renoir may not have intended, at least with respect to the pointed commentary on immigration, something that's hard to push out of the mind in early 2016. If Pagnol himself had made this I'd expect it to be leavened with a little more comic relief, or even perhaps the more gentle acceptance of the vagaries of humanity that you find in much of Renoir's best work. I'm not all that familiar with Charles Blavette, who plays Toni, though he did appear in Pagnol's La Femme du boulanger among others; more recognizable to me was Andrex, whose apparently permanent cheeriness is used to good subversive effect in the conclusion.

Monday, January 25, 2016

La Nuit du carrefour


1932, France, directed by Jean Renoir

One of the very first Maigret adaptations -- there was another the same year, of which I've found no trace, and just one more during the 1930s -- and one of the strangest, with an almost abstract air at times, as well as a curious tendency to linger carefully over objects as much as on people. Although Maigret is as physically imposing a presence as on the page I still had the sense that he's operating here in a kind of existential haze, although this also captures the detective's ability to peer deep into the soul rather well. The film was made largely on location, in the kind of grim suburban setting so beloved of Simenon (that suburban setting was virtually a character in the novel of Monsieur Hire, for instance), and for the most part things are mud- and rain-soaked (foreshadowing, perhaps, the even muddier Une si jolie petite plage). 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Dark Mirror


1946, US, directed by Robert Siodmak

Although Siodmak shows his usual sure hand with psychologically wacky material, this didn't draw me in nearly as much as his other work of the period. This may have as much to do with my being less than invested in the actors, Thomas Mitchell excepted, rather than any flaw in the filmmaking, which certainly made appropriate use of the twin metaphor as well as the inherent possibilities for contrasting dark/light. Perhaps a film I'll need to revisit in a different frame of mind (the print quality wasn't great, either, which may also have had an impact).

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Hateful Eight


2015, US, directed by Quentin Tarantino

Friday, January 08, 2016

L'Etrange Monsieur Victor


1938, France, directed by Jean Grémillon

A Grémillon film that apparently suffered due to its association with the German production company UFA -- the picture was made in Germany in 1937, although it tells an entirely French tale. Still, perhaps not the wisest move on the political front at the time. In any case, very much a rediscovered gem, with a quite wonderful sense of place despite being largely if not entirely a studio beast (von Sternberg would have loved the set design, I suspect). Raimu plays the affable, eponymous Toulon storekeeper who is not at all what he seems -- Grémillon does a fine job of detailing the carefully-maintained façade, which is punctuated in brutal fashion (and Raimu himself is terrific, switching back and forth between personas). The conclusion is quite neat in most respects, and you'd expect something altogether more cynical had the film been made a decade later. 

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States