Thursday 15 October 2015

The Duvivier Dossier (26) La Fin du Jour - Allan Fish writes about the 1939 masterpiece

La Fin du Jour (France 1939 105m)

Dear Anemone III

p  Julien Duvivier  d  Julien Duvivier  w  Charles Spaak, Julien Duvivier  ph  Christian Matras, Alex Joffre, Armand Thirard  ed  Marthe Poncin  m  Maurice Jaubert  art  Jacques Krauss
Michel Simon (Cabrissade), Victor Francen (Marny), Louis Jouvet (Raphael St Clair), Gabrielle Dorziat (Mme.Chabert), Madeleine Ozeray (Jeannette), Sylvie (Mme.Tusini), Gaston Modot (Bistro manager), Charles Granval (Deaubonne), Alexandre Arquillières (M.Lucien), Pierre Magnier (Laroche), Jean Coquelin (Delormel), Gaby André (Danielle), Joffre (Philemon), Jean Aymé (Victor), Gabrielle Fontan (Mme.Jambage), François Pèrier (reporter), Odette Talazac (singer), Philippe Richard (Maréchal Marmont), Simone Aubrey (Germaine), Luce Camy (Fanny Essler), Marie-Hélène Dasté (Adèle),

The first thing to notice may be the long cast list.  It wasn’t done deliberately and yet one wonders if the subconscious didn’t have something to do with it. 

So take one actor of around 60, the legendary womaniser and spendthrift Raphael St Clair.  He’s just finished a low grade production of Alexandre Dumas père’s Antony, and his audience has not exactly been appreciative.  Undaunted, he’s going to retire to his estates, his theatrical career a thing of the past.  Just bridge and hunting for him now.  If only it were true, for despite his success he’s destitute, has had to lay off his manservant Victor and is headed for the Abbey de Saint Jean la Rivière in the country, a retirement home for actors who have fallen on hard times. 

There numerous former conquests now reside and await him eagerly, along with several other cantankerous one-time headliners who now spend their days off private donations.  Among them are two in particular; Cabrissade, a fantasist who actually never did more than carry a spear but who, to hear him talk, sang Opera at the Met and did all the classics.  And Marny, a supremely talented classical actor who never got the success he deserved and who has had a broken heart ever since his wife deserted him over 20 years previously…for St Clair.  He saw it as a fling, and when he comes to the Abbeye he finds that Marny is taking an interest in the young daughter of a local bistro owner, Jeannette.  Marny does love her, but would do nothing about it, while St Clair sees her as a bit of fun young skirt to make him feel younger.  To add to the melodrama the owner of the Abbeye has been trying for some time to come up with extra funds to keep the home open, but to no avail.  He is forced to look for alternative rest homes for them, but where they will be treated no different to anyone else; the ultimate hell for an actor. 

At the time of its release La Fin du Jour was seen as the pinnacle of late thirties French film, but as Duvivier went out of fashion and Renoir was more and more in fashion, it seemed to pale beside the latter’s La Règle du Jeu. But the comparisons are unfair as they’re very different films. 

Fin du Jour may have dated a touch, but the performances and the depth of feeling in the script make little gems of their own.  There are numerous vignettes, too many to do justice to here, and the attention must be given to the central trio.  Francen was never better, an actor worthy of comparison to all the greats in French cinema of the time, but not quite getting the roles (perhaps he could identify with Marny?), saying more when he says nothing at all, until the superb final scene where, refusing to read the pre-prepared fabricated speech of a departed ham, instead offers a more heartfelt one.  Jouvet is his usual brilliant self, thoroughly hateful in a scene where he comes into money from a departed conquest, but only remembers the ring because he got it out of winnings on a horse at Deauville races, eulogising more over the mare than the lady, to the obvious anger of her son, and then callously leaving him to pay for the bill while he makes the arrangements for another wasteful trip to Monte Carlo.  And rounding out the trio, Michel Simon; incorrigible, brilliant, but despairing Michel Simon as the braggart who everyone is annoyed by but feels affection for and worthy of all Francen’s eulogies.  The theatre, what a life!  Life, what a theatre!

Allan Fish is a British writer and critic currently compiling a personal dictionary of cinema. The above is one of the entries. It’s hoped that there will be more contributions to follow.

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