Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mister Flow

1936, France, directed by Robert Siodmak

A bit of a genre mishmash, Siodmak's film, made during the French portion of his career, throws together crime, courtroom drama, romance, high society shenanigans, and a dash of humour. The shifts of direction occur with some crashing of gears, partly, I think, because Siodmak holds back from embracing the material's full potential for silliness -- unlike in, say, Cobra Woman a few years later and a very large ocean away, where he goes full throttle.

We're still in the early stages of Louis Jouvet's screen career here, and while Jouvet never abandoned his theatrical mannerisms -- something that was to our long-term benefit -- he gradually found ways to better integrate them with cinema style. At this point, though, his performances sometimes seem rather exaggerated -- certainly true when his character becomes a blubbering, hand-tic-infested mess. I'm sure the actor rather enjoyed concocting a character with two distinct personae, but it's not an especially subtle transformation, and it's instructive to compare this with his wonderful work a decade later in Copie conforme, where he plays, in essence, five roles, each crisply delineated without fuss, and each entirely convincing.

Jouvet's not the main attraction here, in any case: the leads are Edwige Feuillère, who sparkles throughout, and Fernand Gravey, who starts out as a down-on-his-luck lawyer who's rather easily convinced to begin a less straight-and-narrow existence, hardly helping the reputation of the legal profession in the process. Gravey sports a beard initially, an accoutrement that manages, paradoxically, to make him look even younger than he does when clean shaven, although the Harry Potter glasses don't help his cause either. The two actors seem to have great fun in each other's company -- a kind of Nick-and-Nora from the other side of the law, with roughly the same amount of alcohol consumed.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States