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Sunday, 16 August 2015

A Julien Duvivier Dossier

This is something that has just started to germinate. But here goes. My friend Max Berghouse has been borrowing Julien Duvivier discs for some little time. As recently as last week I passed on a very fine copy of Panique (1946) and the remake of Pot-Bouille (1957). Somewhere round the same time I became aware of a piece written by the late Sam Rohdie just before his death which has now been published here  on the always interesting website Screening the Past . Putting all this together the thought occurs why not try and assemble a dossier about Duvivier, looking at both his triumphs and his failures. Given my age and my memory I cant possibly assemble all this myself so the idea is basically to let a hundred flowers bloom and simply ask people to send in anything they wish to contribute. As each entry arrives I'll post it on the blog but as well, I shall arrange for it to be assembled hopefully in some coherent order, perhaps chronologically based on each film covered on the Film Alert website .

In starting this off I can make a small contribution taken from something already posted on the website here . Part of that piece is devoted to a somewhat revelatory screening of Duvivier's 1956 masterpiece Voici Le Temps des Assassins. It’s part of a longer section about Jean Gabin.

....French Can Can is almost the last film in which Gabin plays the romantic. Age catches up with him and he settles into roles where his age starts to show. The Simenon adaptations provided him with a steady diet of meat, whether as Maigret, the fake gentleman in Le Baron d’Ecluse (Jean Delannoy, 1959), the lawyer seduced into running off the rails by Brigitte Bardot in En cas de Malheur (Claude Autant Lara, 1958) or, his last great performance the aforementioned Le Chat.

Except, that is, for one of his finest films Voici le temps des assassins (Julien Duvivier, 1956). Gabin plays Andre Chatelin, a restaurateur and cook with a thriving business in the old Les Halles. His ordered life, welcoming everyone from a film producer with a different starlet on his arm at each visit to the French President, is turned ever more askew when Catherine, the daughter of his former wife Gabrielle, turns up and ingratiates herself into his company, his business and his bed. They marry and only then do we know, for sure at least, that she is a scheming gold digger who has hatched a plan with her drunken wreck of a mother to fleece Andre of his wealth. The spiral downwards into despair amidst a meticulously drawn background of daily life and routine in a successful restaurant is brilliantly drawn. The program booklet, Jean Gabin plus qu’un acteur…un mythe, a splendid publication describes the film exactly as “C’est le le plus naturaliste, le plus noir, le plus pessimiste de Duvivier. Ici nous sommes plonges dans un monde infernale ou Catherine et Gabrielle sont les deux faces d’une meme nature humaine gangrenee.” One wonders whether all those like Thomson who passed easy judgement on Gabin’s later career have even seen what seems to be an astonishingly neglected masterwork.

There's a start. More to come, possibly in an initial rush. But in the meantime any comments, reviews, corrections, lists, thoughts, pointers and so on will be published if sent in by email to geofg2@bigpond.com .

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