18 July 2015

Eugène Dabit: L'Hôtel du Nord (1929)

Marcel Carné's film Hôtel du Nord (1938) is a story of a bungled suicide pact by two lovers in financial difficulty set against the backcloth of the characters living in or using the rather seedy hotel. It is bungled because the man – Pierre – shoots his lover Renée but fails to go through with killing himself. But Renée recovers and is offered a job as a maid at the hotel, which she accepts and enjoys, although Pierre – now in prison for wounding her – is ashamed of his cowardly actions and refuses to acknowledge Renée, who still loves him.

In her emotional confusion, Renée wants to leave the country for a new life with Monsieur Edmond, who has been living at the hotel with Mme Raymonde, a prostitute he abandons after falling for Renée's charms. Finally, Renée changes her mind and goes back to the now released Pierre, and the defeated Monsieur Edmond accepts death at the hands of one of two men seeking revenge for an action performed by Edmond some time before the start of the film.

Eugène Dabit's parents owned the hotel represented in his book Hôtel du Nord (1929) when he was a child, although the film and the book are very different. Dabit's novel is more of a series of episodes that occur at the hotel, the suicidal pair are absent, and 'Monsieur Edmond' here is called Pierre Trimault and his lover Renée: she becomes a prostitute after Pierre leaves her on learning that she is pregnant by him.

People come and go at the hotel, and proprietor Louise Lecouvreur in particular has a much stronger role in the book, looking after the women from predatory men, and ever wary that the hotel doesn't get a reputation for being a brothel. One of the few characters who is occasionally present throughout most of the book is Mimar, who doesn't exist in the film but whose main interests are playing the card game manille and bedding women, both activities at which he is highly skilled. Until he realises that it is time to settle down and marry, which he does, only his wife Lucie dies not long after the marriage.

Of particular interest is an early representation of homosexuality: Adrien is a very fastidious guest and Louise is pleased that he cares so much about the cleanliness of his room, and shows no concern when he has men friends up with him, even when they stay the night. But then she has no idea what is going on, and is merely bemused when Adrien dresses up in drag in preparation for the bal de Magic-City.

In the book then there is nothing of the high drama of the film, which begins with the suicidal lovers crossing the Saint-Martin canal towards the hotel, and ends with them crossing the canal in the opposite direction towards a new future. But the book ends with the demolition of the hotel.

My other posts on Eugène Dabit:
Eugène Dabit, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
Eugène Dabit: L'Hôtel du Nord

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