Saturday 7 October 2017

On Julien Duvivier - David Hare provides some further thoughts following publication of a new critical study of the director

Editor’s note: David Hare posted this note addressed to Max Berghouse on my Facebook page. It’s too good to leave just to my friends. It responds to Max's Review of a new book on Duvivier by Adelaide University academic Ben McCann.

Julien Duvivier, Fernandel shooting of
The Return of Don Camillo (1953)
I had also thought some biographical detail on Duvivier would possibly be illuminating, especially in regards to an apparent shift in his relatively "reverent" devotional pictures, both silent and talkie up to and basically ending with Golgotha (France, 1935), with Gabin in pageboy wig and toga. By this time one can hardly escape the conclusion Duvivier had lost his faith, perhaps as a consequence of the sharp intelligence he obviously possessed which led to so many (misjudged) critical attacks on his "pessimism" and more specifically his supposed "misogyny". (Which was as much a creation of writer Charles Spaak's as Duviv's with Spaak's original Femmes Fatales creations from his 1935 screenplays onwards.

Jean Gabin ("pageboy wig and toga", centre)
I think the fact Duviv's wife was Jewish is widely reported by Dudley Andrew and others. A topic that interests me even more than the above is how he managed to tone down the inescapable views of anti-semitism in the movie he directed from his collaborated screenplay of Irene Nemirovsky's 1929 novel David Golder (1930). Nemirovsky's central character is an essay in what she perceived as a ventilation of the subject of "good Jew/ bad Jew", a barely hidden current in pre-war Europe, from her viewpoint as a Jew herself. It's a minefield of material and a book's worth of research on its own.

What Duvivier demonstrates is that he was aware of the perils in putting this out to a "liberal" audience, including a Jewish one that the writer was, and the degree to which he could round out the central character so fully as to largely remove the "semitic emphasis" from both the character and the narrative.

Fernand Gravet, Luise Rainer, Miliza Korjus
The Great Waltz
On the subject of Hollywood, Duviv left France for Hollywood to try-out for Metro on The Great Waltz in 1938, but went back after the studio decided it would re-shoot the ending with its ludicrous happy wedding nonsense. There was also of course the completely gorgeous waltz montage shot by Sternberg which redeems the picture totally. Duvivier realized, by 1939, following his return to France, that he and his wife were not safe and they packed up to escape the fury by the end of that year. A similar fate was not dealt to Nemirovsky who found herself interned in the first Vichy roundups in 1940, and murdered at Auschiwtz in 1942.

Also noteworthy. For myself I had never seen any visual footage of Duvivier or heard his voice. Until now however.  He is one of the four or five most prominent talking heads in the absolutely superb documentary, A la Recherche de Gremillon on Arrow Academy's new Blu-ray of L'Amour d'une Femme (1953). Duviv in the flesh (so to speak) is a total surprise. Razor sharp eyes and a tight precise voice and spoken tone, which announce thought of deafening perception and clarity. He and Spaak both clearly perceived the subject of the show, Grem, in a way that I haven't read about previously (and I have read copiously on the subject).

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