Thursday, June 07, 2012

La Charrette fantôme

1939, France, directed by Julien Duvivier

I've been gradually watching my way through as much of Louis Jouvet's filmography as I can, although I've been coming to the conclusion that using Jouvet as the unifying feature isn't the most productive way to view many of his films. A great many of the actor's appearances, at least in the 1930s, are rather brief supporting roles, barely more than cameos in some cases, so using him as a starting point can end up being a fast track to disappointment as he disappears so quickly from the screen. That's true, yet again, in Duvivier's remake of Victor Sjöström's 1921 film: Jouvet steals scenes early on from actual star Pierre Fresnay, and leaves an indelible trail behind that Fresnay, whose character is a rather hard-to-like fellow, can't compete with; it's never a good sign when you're being one-upped by your offscreen co-stars, though in this case Fresnay also has to deal with Micheline Francey, who goes all-out in a role as a Salvation Army sister who's not averse to a touch of martyrdom.

The sequences featuring the eponymous phantom carriage are eerie -- the use of sound is especially good, evoking something like the macabre ticking of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart -- but I suspect that Duvivier lifted the double exposure imagery pretty directly from Sjöström, at least if the screen captures I've seen are representative; though memorable in patches, particularly in those sequences capturing the grinding poverty in which so many of the characters live, as if foreshadowing the privations of the war, the film ultimately doesn't feel like a project in which Duvivier (or Jouvet) is fully invested, unlike their previous collaboration on La Fin du jour.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States