|Le dernier tout (Jacques Becker)|
Beginning with Becker, a director who died too young at 53 in 1960, but whose dozen plus movies can now be recognized and enjoyed as the work of a pantheon director, after decades of neglect
|Edouard et Caroline, (Jacques Becker)|
|Casque d'Or (Jacques Becker)|
|Romy Schneider Max et les Ferrailleurs (Claude Sautet)|
|Erich Von Stroheis, Mireille Balin, Macao, L'Enfer du jeu|
The picture adds to this pure ultimate 1939 cast Roland Toutain as male love interest, and Erich von Stroheim who was taken out of the movie by the Vichy censors to be recut using Pierre Renoir for the part during the Occupation era screenings. Sessue Hayakawa, fresh from Ophuls’ 1938 Yoshiwara, also made in Paris, is here too, playing the shady arms trader who does “business” with Erich, a double agent who spends the rest of his spare time curating a fetishist’s wardrobe of women’s novelty clothes, shoes and boots, with which he seduces his willing or unwilling targets, including the now imperiled Mireille into BDSM submission with alternate rough stuff and soft millinery.
The film is literally as good as it sounds and Delannoy directed several other remarkable works, despite his relegation to the pits of the “Tradition de Qualité” as dictated by the New Wave Politique des Auteurs. L’Eternel Retour from Cocteau’s source material is another such Delannoy picture and aside from its considerable beauty as a fine Cocteau adaptation it’s a movie that pioneered the angora sweater for a generation of fashionable French teenagers.
This diversion leads Bertrand to the one unavoidably grave subject of the Occupation, Renoir’s apparent complicity with it. At this point he produces two typed letters from Renoir to the head of Vichy operations dated March 1940. In the letters, Renoir openly and - sad to say – gleefully cosies up with the Vichy regime using some of the most disgusting anti-semitic language to come out of the era. After supporting the new regime’s intentions to “clean up” the industry he offers to assist in any way to help rid the business of these “vermin” and "undesirables” who still riddle the landscape.
The joy totally leaves Tavernier’s face while he talks about this, and he ends the section on a sobering note leaving us, each and every one, to arrive at whatever feelings we may now have about Renoir himself, and the whole dirty business in France for the duration. Clearly there’s no joy here, but it had to be done.
Bertrand’s movie then picks up steam to encompass and link, discuss and analyze, reflect and illuminate in a breadth of scale with such intimate and razor sharp perception as one could ever hope to see, read or view. Bertrand’s whole life has been defined temporally and personally by French cinema, and his own contributions to it are also no small matter.
This titanic, 3 hours plus, documentary has already had screenings around the festival and revival house circuits and makes a debut on an English subbed Blu-ray from Cohen and Sony picture in the USA on November 21. My own viewings have been from the French Gaumont BD. At the end of the show is an “advance” title card suggesting the contents of a second series, and that very series is now re-screening as we speak on French Ciné Classic in Europe in the form of eight 54 minute episodes.
I was able to obtain a Standard Def TV capture of these eight programs, with literally dozens of themes like Gremillon, Duvivier and the first pre-war expat influences in French movies, to the 30s wave including Pabst, Siodmak and Ophuls. Among what I’ve seen so far the Gremillon/Ophuls/Decoin episode is almost unbearably sublime.
|Lila Kedrova, Razzia sur le schnouf (Henri Decoin)|
|Jean Gabin "looks on impassively",|
Razzia sur le schnouf (Henri Decoin)
As does all of Tavernier’s great work.
I hope the first disc, with tranche one of the Journey, reaches the widest audience through disc and broadcast and even, theatrical screenings. The second tranche of which I have watched less than three hours so far has left me shell-shocked, to say nothing of testing the extremely weak limits of my French language "skills".Release of the year?