20 February 2016

Marcel Carné's Le Jour se lève (1939)

It's been a few years now since I've written any blog posts about films, a fault I shall correct forthwith. Marcel Carnés Le Jour se lève is a classic work of French cinema, and without doubt one of Carné's major works. The dialogue here is written by Jacques Prévert, and Jean Gabin's acting is superlative.

The expression 'poetic realism' is frequently made of this film. The concentration is on objects, the psychology often tacit, particularly on the part of the Gabin character François. The film begins with a working-class street setting, moving to a dingy lodging house where a man clasping his belly falls down a few flights of stairs dead at the feet of a blind man who shouts for help.

We then enter the room on the fourth floor which the dying man has staggered from, where François has obviously shot him, and locks himself in from the police who try to shoot the lock off the door but François barricades himself in using a wardrobe. 

The audience doesn't know the motive or anything of the backstory, and it is this which, unusual for the early date of this film, will be shown in three flashbacks, returning to the present to watch the chain-smoking François and his limited activities in his claustrophobic one-room home.

Le Jour se lève proved popular with the public, although it was banned by the Vichy régime as it was too pessimistic, too defeatist for the desired mood of the time. The dead man is Valentin, a dog trainer who works in music halls and is played by a very active and menacing Jules Berry, whose behavior strongly contrasts with the pensive François.

Contrast is a major feature of the film: the sultry language and actions of François against his beloved  Françoise (Jaqueline Laurent) as opposed to the forced jollity of the music hall, the silence of François alone in his room as opposed to the gunfire of the police, the (visually expressed) loneliness and despair of François as opposed to the excitement of the crowd outside, etc. Until he releases all his anger at the crowd, until he avoids the police gas by killing himself, which seems inevitable.

A tremendously powerful film that evidently has to be watched than once.

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