Sunday, November 1, 2009

Duvivier Retrospective - C'est Magnifique

The PFA wrapped up a very entertaining Julien Duvivier retrospective on Halloween. They screened 15 programs; I was able to watch nine of them.

The title of the program was "Julien Duvivier: Poetic Craftsman of Cinema." Craftsman is a most appropriate description of Duvivier. The prolific director seemed to be able to master any genre - silent films, talkies, musicals, noir, humor, suspense, comedy, drama, etc.

Julien Duvivier Retrospective
The Whirlwind of Paris; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1927)
Poil de Carotte; French with English subtitles; (1932)
Pépé le Moko starring Jean Gabin; French with English subtitles; (1937)
Au bonheur des dames; silent with a reader; live accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg; (1930)
The Great Waltz; (1938)
La belle équipe starring Jean Gabin; French with English subtitles; (1936)
La tête d’un homme; French with English subtitles; (1933)
Deadlier Than the Male; starring Jean Gabin; French with English subtitles; (1956)
Pot-Bouille; French with English subtitles; (1957)


Of the films, a few stood out for me.

First & foremost was Deadlier Than the Male - a vicious little noir about a young woman (Danièle Delorme) who deceives her mother's ex-husband (Jean Gabin) into marrying her. It's impossible to keep track of Delorme's lies but my favorite is when she tells Gabin her mother has just died. In fact, she's living in a flop house down the street and has a heroin addiction. Mother and daughter are plotting to marry Delorme to Gabin so she can get his money. It was the little flourishes that stand out - Gabin's mother kills chickens with a whip and there is a huge sheep dog that plays a crucial role in the film. Also, Gabin seemed quite comfortable around the kitchen (his character was renowned chef). The film is a showcase for Delorme to play the femme fatale and she delivered an outstanding performance.

Jean Gabin (left) and Danièle Delorme in Deadlier Than the Male


Poil de Carotte (Carrot Head) is an old fashioned melodrama that allows Duvivier the opportunity to pull the audience's heartstrings. The story is about a red-headed boy (not a stepchild but "an accident") who is abused and ignored by his family. His shrewish mother goes out of her way to make his life miserable and his stone faced father rarely utters a word to him. Robert Lynen plays the boy who longs for his father's (Harry Baur) love. I found myself rooting for the boy so it had to be a well made film to move my cynical heart. Sadly, both Lynen & Baur would be killed by the Nazis a dozen years after the film.

Harry Baur (left) and Robert Lynen in Poil de Carotte


Baur re-teamed with Duvivier in La tête d’un homme. Baur plays a taciturn detective with a worn out face who doggedly pursues Valéry Inkizhinov in a standout performance. Described in the PFA program as "a nihilistic, Dostoevskian killer," Inkizhinov commands attention as the self-pitying, sociopathic, consumptive.


Duvivier seemed to have an affinity for the works of Emile Zola. When I was in high school, I had to write an English term paper on author. I chose Zola. Why? I still don't know. I've read a few passages of Nana but beyond his role in the Dreyfus Affair and a passing knowledge of Les Rougon-Macquart, his multi-generational, 20 novel treatise on the effect of hereditary biases and environment on behavior.

Two films in the series were based on works by Zola - Au bonheur des dames and Pot-Bouille. I didn't care much for Pot-Bouille. Au bonheur des dames was dated and couldn't seem to make up its mind about where it stood on capitalism. However, it did have some beautiful cinematography - sweeping, wide-angle shots of Galleries Lafayette in Paris and action shots of workmen that would put a Soviet propagandist to shame.

1 comment:

Chuck said...

Duvivier is truly an incredible director -- especially, I like his collaborations with Jean Gabin (which I discuss, in detail, in my two-volume Jean Gabin book, WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR.

Besides "La Belle equipe," "Pepe Le Moko," and "Voici le temps des assassins," Duvivier and Gabin also teamed up for the American film "Impostor" (Universal, 1944) which is one of only two films Gabin made in English and 1935's "Golgotha," cinema history's first sound epic about Jesus, in which Gabin has a great supporting role as Pontius Pilate.

I am hoping that this Duvivier series will appear here in Los Angeles one of these days (for those, like me, who weren't able to attend in NY and Berkeley).