La Foire aux Chimères (1946)

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“Can you imagine the torture of feeling the sun’s warmth without being dazzled by its light?”
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vt Devil and the Angel; vt Carnival of Illusions
France / 93 minutes / bw / Cinéma, National Dir: Pierre Chenal Pr: Ralph Baum Scr: Jacques Companéez, Ernst Neubach, Louis Ducreux Cine: Pierre Montazel Cast: Madeleine Sologne, Erich von Stroheim, Louis Salou, Yves Vincent, Claudine Dupuis, Jean-Jacques Delbo, Margo Lion, Pierre Labry, Georges Vitray, Georges Cusin, Merove, Line Renaud, Gustave Gallet, Annette Poivre, Frouhins, Denise Benoît, J.P. Moulinot, Dora Doll, Howard Vernon, Devienne, Paul Delauzac.

I watched this in the form of the restoration done by the French Ministère de la Culture’s Archives du Film du Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie. As you’ll see from the screengrabs, the picture quality is a little soft; what you can’t see from the screengrabs, of course, is that the sound isn’t of the best. Even so, the restoration is very watchable and the movie itself quite enchanting, with a dark streak of noirishness revealing itself in the later stages, after the earlier Beauty and the Beast fairytale is over.

Erich von Stroheim as Frank.

It’s the 50th birthday of Frank Davis (von Stroheim), the man in charge of the printing of banknotes for a major bank. Frank is a lonely man and a prickly personality as a consequence of the facial disfigurement he suffered some long while ago—in combat or in an accident, we’re not told. (I think we’re meant to assume it was an accident involving the acids with which, as an engraver, he must work.) His subordinates, especially the younger ones, despise him for his irascibility and his humorlessness. Here’s an exchange early on in the movie as Continue reading

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Une Journée Bien Remplie, ou Neuf Meurtres Insolites dans une Même Journée par un Seul Homme Dont Ce n’est pas le Métier (1973)

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If Jacques Tati had made a serial-killer movie . . .
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vt A Full Day’s Work
France, Italy / 86 minutes / color / Cinétel, EIA, Président, Valoria, BAC Dir & Scr: Jean-Louis Trintignant Pr: Jacques-Éric Strauss Cine: William Lubtchansky Cast: Jacques Dufilho, Luce Marquand, Franco Pesce, Albin Guichard, Andrée Bernard, Louis Malignon, T. Requenae, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Antoine Marin, Pierre Dominique, Vittorio Caprioli, Gisèle Abetissian, Gérard Streiff, Maurice Duc, Manuel Segura, Denise Péron, André Falcon, Hella Petri, Jean-Pierre Elga, Robert Orsini, Eugène Berthier, Gérard Sire, Jean-Louis Trintignant.

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If you can imagine what the result might have been had Jacques Tati ever taken it into his head to make a serial-killer movie, you might begin to envisage how this, the first of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s two directorial outings, Une Journée Bien Remplie, plays. Leading man Jacques Dufilho on occasion even emulates the master in his body language and his walk. Despite the generally used English-language variant title, A Full Day’s Work, the main French title is really far better translated as “A Day Well Spent”: that gives you a far better idea of the caustic yet whimsical humor on offer here, because the day of the central character, mild-mannered French provincial baker Jean “Jeannot” Rousseau (Dufilho) is spent knocking off, in individual and inventive ways, the nine jurors who sent his murdering son Fernand to the guillotine.

(The subtitle translates roughly as—creak of schoolboy French moving into action—“Nine Unusual Murders Committed in the Same Day by a Solitary Man for Whom This is not a Profession.”)

une-journee-bien-remplie-7-dad-holds-the-fort-back-at-the-bakery

Dad (Franco Pesce) holds the fort back at the bakery.

In this endeavor Jean is aided and abetted by his dear old mom (Marquand) and his dear old dad (Pesce), the former, dressed funereally and bearing a black umbrella, riding as sidecar passenger on Jean’s motorbike, the latter continuing the business of the bakery in Jean’s absence, and trying to cover for him when the cops come calling.

At first everything goes smoothly.

une-journee-bien-remplie-1-the-guy-looking-out-of-the-rear-window-is-juror-person

The guy looking out the rear window is juror Person (Gérard Streiff). Continue reading

Accident, L’ (1963)

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Lust and betrayal on a bleak French island!
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vt The Accident
France / 91 minutes / bw / Félix, Univers, TCF Dir: Edmond T. Gréville Pr: José Benazeraf Scr: Frédéric Dard, Edmond T. Gréville Story: L’Accident (1961) by Frédéric Dard Cine: Jean Badal Cast: Magali Noël, Georges Rivière, Danick Patisson (i.e., Danik Patisson), Roland Lesaffre, Jean Combal.

L'Accident - 0 opener

Young and lovely teacher Françoise Cassel (Patisson, a former beauty queen) comes to take up a post at the school on the remote Brittany island of Kergreach—the location used was l’Ile-de-Bréhat, whose inhabitants played most of the many supporting roles. She finds the school in a very decrepit state, as indeed are its director and hitherto sole teacher, Julien Avène (Rivière), and his alcoholic wife Andrea (Noël).

Françoise: “Are there many students?”
Julien: “Fishermen drown less and less, and they have more and more kids.”

The living quarters to which Andrea shows Françoise are the most decrepit of all: rain not so much drips through the leaky roof as streams. After a sleepless night, Françoise in desperation erects a tent inside the room and thereafter sleeps inside it—moving the tent outside when the weather becomes more benign.

L'Accident - 2 Francoise spends a sleepless night in her new quarters

Francoise (Danik Patisson) spends a sleepless night in her new digs.

On first arriving on the island, Françoise met the village idiot, Yvon le Goualec (Lesaffre), who took a shine to her. He has an obsession with Continue reading

Chambre Ardente, La (1962)

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An ancient curse, a modern crime!

vt The Burning Court; vt Das Brennende Gericht; vt I Peccatori della Foresta Nera
France, Italy, West Germany / 109 minutes / bw / International, UFA-Comacico, Taurus Dir: Julien Duvivier Pr: Julien Duvivier, Yvon Guézel Scr: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak Story: The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr Cine: Roger Fellous Cast: Nadja Tiller, Jean-Claude Brialy, Perrette Pradier, Édith Scob, Walter Giller, Duvallès, Héléna Manson, René Génin, Claude Piéplu, Dany Jacquet, Gabriel Jabour (i.e., Gabriel Jabbour), Laurence Belval, Antoine Balpêtré, Claude Rich, Carl Brake.

Chambre Ardente - 0a opener 1

Chambre Ardente - 0b opener 2

The celebrated John Dickson Carr mystery novel upon which this is based was at the time somewhat controversial, because its solution more than hinted that the supernatural was involved; for obvious reasons, this was regarded by mystery buffs as breaking the rules. (I remember reading the novel many years ago, and I’m surprised that this element didn’t trouble me. In my mystery reading I’m usually pretty prim about such infractions.) The conclusion to the movie, too, breaks the rules of straightforward mystery plotting, albeit in a different way—one that may well infuriate some viewers.

The movie starts with a scrolled and spoken preamble:

“On July 17, 1676, Marie d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, accused of witchcraft practice[s] and convicted of having poisoned her father, her two brothers and numerous other persons, was burnt at the stake on a Paris square, after having had her head cut off. Her ashes were thrown to the wind. Before her death she cursed the lover that betrayed her and all his descendants. The following tells the story of that curse.”

Today (i.e., in the early 1960s) Mathias Desgrez (Duvallès), the last direct descendant of Emile Desgrez—the cop who disguised himself as a priest to infiltrate the convent where Marie was hiding, became her lover and then turned her over to the authorities—is living near-eremitically in the grand chateau he built in the Black Forest for his wife, who alas died young. The only people he sees with any regularity are his nurse, Myra Schneider (Tiller), his housemaid, Frieda Schiller (Jacquet), his married housekeeper and gardener, Augusta Henderson (Manson) and Frédéric Henderson (Génin), and a neighbor, Dr. Hermann (Balpêtré), a genial doctor stripped of his license some years ago for performing an abortion. The two old men have fun exploring the occult together, although Continue reading

Carrefour (1938)

France / 70 minutes / bw / Eclair–Journal, BUP Dir: Kurt Bernhardt Pr: Eugene Tuscherer Scr: Kurt Bernhardt, André-Paul Antoine Story: H. Kafka Cine: Léonce-Henri Burel Cast: Charles Vanel, Jules Berry, Suzy Prim, Tania Fedor, Marcelle Geniat, Jean Claudio, Jenny Hecquet (i.e., Annie France), Palau, Paul Amiot, Bovério.

Carrefour - 0 opener

The movie upon which was based the popular US fringe film noir CROSSROADS (1942) dir Jack Conway, with William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, Claire Trevor and Basil Rathbone.

A man named Leduc (Palau) attempts to blackmail prominent industrialist Roger de Vetheuil (Vanel) with the claim that de Vetheuil is really a lowlife hoodlum called Jean Pelletier, who swapped identities with the heir during the Battle of the Somme. De Vetheuil cooperates with the flics to have Leduc arrested. However, one of the newspapers gets hold of the story and splashes it far and wide. Aided and abetted by his lawyer, Pierre Alexandre (Bovério), de Vetheuil sues the paper.

Yet things soon start to look grim for his case. It emerges that, because of injuries received while serving at the Somme, he suffered complete amnesia; were it not for the fact that his childhood sweetheart, now wife, Anna (Fedor), tracked him down and identified him, he would have no knowledge of his earlier life. Michèle Allain (Prim), currently a successful nightclub owner but once Continue reading

Moderato Cantabile (1960)

vt Seven Days . . . Seven Nights
France, Italy / 89 minutes / bw / Iéna–Documento Dir: Peter Brook Pr: Raoul J. Levy Scr: Marguerite Duras, Gerard Jarlot Story: Moderato Cantabile (1958) by Marguerite Duras Cine: Armand Thirard Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Pascale de Boysson, Jean Deschamps, Didier Haudepin, Colette Regis, Valeric.

Moderato Cantabile - 3 almost, the lovers kiss

Anne Desbarèdes (Jeanne Moreau) and Chauvin (Jean-Paul Belmondo), two lovers whose time was never meant to be.

One of those movies that mesmerizes through its restraint, this is set in a dreary coastal small town—familiar territory for French cinema—where Anne Desbarèdes (Moreau) is the beautiful, bored wife of the principal local employer (Deschamps); “No,” she says at one point, summarizing not just the starkness of the place but her own life there, “summer never comes in this region. It’s always windy.”

One afternoon she’s watching her young son Pierre (Haudepin) take his piano lesson from the elderly Miss Giraud (Regis) when his faltering rendition of Anton Diabelli’s Sonatina in F (op 168 #1, first movement indicated as moderato cantabile) is interrupted by a long, uncanny howl of agony. Investigating, Anne and Pierre discover that a man (Valeric) has murdered his lover in a nearby bar, the Café de la Gironde, a place that seems normally a territory open only to men and whores.

Anne catches the eye of one of the bar’s regulars, Chauvin (Belmondo), who happens Continue reading

Douce Violence (1962)

vt Sweet Violence; vt Sweet Ecstasy

France / 88 minutes / bw / Artedis, Paris-Inter-Production, Contact Dir: Max Pecas Pr: Joël Lifschutz Scr: Jacques Aucante, G.M. Dabat, Max Pecas Cine: Marc Fossart, Roger Duculot Cast: Pierre Brice, Elke Sommer, Vittoria Prada, Christian Pezey, Jenny Astruc, Michelle Bardollet (i.e. Michèle Bardollet), Robert Darame, Michel Gordon, Lionel Bernier, Brigitte Suard, Mitzouko (i.e., Mitsouko), Pringle Conrad, Robert Barre, Jacques Bezard, Roger Rudel, Agnès Spaak, Dinan, Claire Maurier.

At a theater on the Riviera where his much older sister, Claire Maurier (herself), is starring in a new play, Olivier (Pezey) meets a young Italian actress, Barbara (Prada), and the two are instantly attracted. When they go for a drink, they meet up with a group of rich, hooligan students led by the political-science major Philippe Maître (Brice). Maître’s girl Elke (Sommer) takes a shine to Olivier and, with Maître’s permission, sets out to seduce him. Olivier finds himself responding to Elke’s flamboyant charms, and Barbara leaves alone. It’s soon plain to us that Maître is a control freak and borderline sociopath, and that he enjoys playing sadistic little power games with the rest of the gang as his puppets; the sole exception is Elke, who, while most of the time as cold and cruel as he is, can be occasionally shocked into decency . . . and rebellion.

Douce Violence - 1 Barbara and Olivier seem made for each other . . .Barbara (Vittoria Prada) and Olivier (Christian Pezey) seem to be made for each other . . .

Douce Violence - 2 . . . Elke has other ideas. . . but Elke (Elke Sommer) has other ideas.

The parents of one of the gang, Mick (Astruc), have left her in charge of Continue reading

Vent se Lève, Le (1959)

vt Time Bomb

France, Italy / 92 minutes / bw / Groupe des 4, Da. Ma. Cinematografica Dir: Yves Ciampi Scr: Yves Ciampi, Henri-François Rey, Jean-Charles Tacchella Story: Jean-Charles Tacchella Cine: Armand Thirard Cast: Curd Jürgens, Mylène Demongeot, Alain Saury, Paul Mercey, Robert Porte, Daniel Sorano, Jean Daurand, Gabriel Gobin, André Dalibert, Jess Hahn, Raymond Loyer.

In Le Havre, wastrel siblings Michel (Saury) and Catherine Mougins (Demongeot) have run the family shipping business into the ground since the death of their magnate father. A friend of Michel’s suggests to him, as if it were a new idea, the old shipping-insurance scam: fill one of the company’s ships with a cargo of sawdust in the guise of expensive Ceylon tea, scupper the ship, blame an old WWII mine for the sinking, and claim a huge sum from the insurance company. The shipping firm owns a suitable hulk, the Volturnia, now docked in Hamburg.

Vent se Leve, plotters Jurgens & Demongeot

Jürgens and Demongeot, plotting mischief.

Catherine ropes in her much older lover Éric Muller (Jürgens), a retired sea captain trying to make it big in business, and in turn he ropes in his Hamburg pal Mathias (Sorano), a specialist in criminal bombings. Together Éric and Mathias plant a time bomb in the bowels of the vessel; before going ashore, Mathias announces that nothing can now stop the bomb going off at 3am.

The ship sets sail for the planned detonation area, the vicinity of an old minefield (so as to make the “accident” seem plausible), with Éric as skipper, and needless to say there are problems. They Continue reading

Dernier des Six, Le (1941)

vt The Last One of the Six

France / 89 minutes / bw / Teledis, L’Union Générale Cinématographique, Citadel Dir: Georges Lacombe Scr: Georges Clouzot (i.e., Henri-Georges Clouzot) Story: Six Hommes Morts (1930) by S.A. Steeman Cine: Robert Lefebvre Cast: Pierre Fresnay, Michèle Alfa, Suzy Delair, Jean Tissier, Jean Chevrier, Lucien Nat, André Luguet, Georges Rollin, Raymond Segard, Paul Demange, Odette Barencey.

A far better remake of The Riverside Murder (1935).

Five years ago six broke friends—Jean Perlonjour (Chevrier), Henri Senterre (Luguet), Georges “Jo” Gribbe (Rollin), Marcel Gernicot (Nat), Tignol (Tissier) and Namotte (Segard)—pooled what little money they had and sent Perlonjour to gamble with it. He returned having won triumphantly, and the sextet agreed to split the money six ways and each go out into the world to seek their fortune, reuniting in five years to share their wealth.

Now the impoverished Perlonjour returns to Paris, where Senterre has become a wealthy nightclub impresario; they discover that Namotte has apparently been murdered by being thrown from L’Aquitaine en route from Dakar to France. Another arrival is Gernicot, who seems twitchy and uneasy; his unloving wife, professional markswoman Lolita (Alfa), proves to be an old flame of Perlonjour’s. Gribbe has been in Paris all the while, forging cheques and betting on the ponies; Tignol was in Rouen, where he married a rich widow.

Gernicot is shot in Senterre’s luxury apartment; by the time Senterre returns with help, the corpse has disappeared. The plot really centers on the mystery of how this disappearance was effected. When Tignol’s murdered in Senterre’s nightclub during Lolita’s premiere performance there and then Gribbe is found dead in a fleapit Paris hotel, it’s obvious to all—and especially Commissaire Wenceslas “Wens” Vorobotchik (Fresnay)—that one of the quasi-tontine is murdering the others. The solution to the mystery—the identity of the killer—is obvious in hindsight, less so while you’re actually watching the movie.

It would be hard to claim this as a full-scale noir—there’s too much humor, notably from Wens’s chanteuse mistress Mila Malou (Delair) but also elsewhere—but it certainly has borderline noir status. Since it was made at a time when the French had no access to the crime movies being created in the US—those movies that would become regarded as the core works of film noir—we can hardly claim it was influenced by them; had it been made ten years later, on the other hand, we’d have been pontificating about its being derivative of the US school.

Aside from its stylishness, there are some obvious differences, especially in terms of its attitude toward sex: There’s no opprobrium attached to the fact that Wens and Mila are living together (in a US movie of the time, there’d likely be a conscious focus on the arrangement’s sordidness, assuming it weren’t just written out of the script) and, when Mila talks about a friend of hers who slept with every fireman in a firehouse, her horror is not at the promiscuity but that the friend should sink so low as to sleep with firemen. Again, part of Lolita’s shooting act at Santerre’s decadent nightclub The Palladium is to burst globes that are being held aloft by nude women, little of whose nudity is hidden from the camera; even though the scene is charming and satirically witty rather than salacious, the upholders of the Production Code would have had a fit. Just compare this with the markswoman act of Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) in GUN CRAZY (1949), which the US thought was rather saucy.

Les Dernier des Six (1941) - A scene you'd not find in a contemporary US movie

A scene you’d not find in Gun Crazy (1949).

Clouzot would bring back the characters of Wens and Mila in his directorial debut, L’ASSASSIN HABITE AU 21 (1942; vt The Murderer Lives at Number 21), again based on a Steeman novel. Both movies, and others involving Clouzot as either writer or director (or both), were done for the Nazi-financed company Continental, a circumstance that was to cause him some trouble after WWII was over.

Reportedly Lacombe declined to direct the protracted Busby Berkeley-style nightclub act himself.

On Amazon.fr: Le Dernier de Six