Tuesday, December 22, 2009


1947, France, directed by Julien Duvivier

Duvivier's first film back in France after his wartime exile in Hollywood is a cracker, a tremendous study of both individual loneliness and group behaviour that's a pointed commentary on much that occurred in France during the wartime years: the central character, M. Hire, played by Michel Simon, is Jewish, although that's more explicit in Georges Simenon's original novel than in the film. Whereas the residents of Hire's neighborhood view him as a shady, malevolent force, Duvivier depicts him as a bringer of light, constantly opening curtains and speaking his mind in the face of hostility, veiled and explicit.

While there are moments of melodrama, most notably during an outing to a country house that recalls the traumatic broken engagement of Great Expectations, though Hire is no Miss Faversham, for the most part Duvivier hews to a realistic depiction of one Parisian neighborhood. The film occasionally recalls the feel of Clair's Sous les toits de Paris, in which everyone knows everyone's business: indeed, there seems to be an explicit reference to the earlier film through the presence of a man selling sheet music and singing from his merchandise, while both films were entirely filmed in studios, well away from the streets they depict.

I couldn't help seeing a wink to Duvivier's previous Simenon adaptation, La Tête d'un homme, too: like the earlier film, Panique contains a climactic scene which concludes, with deep irony, in front of a closed-up pharmacy.

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