Julien Duvivier, the "young turcs" against the Parisian press: the Bonnefille connection
Ferdinand: This looks like a setting from "Pepe le Moko"
Ferdinand: Pepe le Moko.
Marianne: Who's that?
Ferdinand: You clearly don't know anything.
Ferdinand: Pepe le Moko.
Marianne: Who's that?
Ferdinand: You clearly don't know anything.
from Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou"
In an effort to expand on my report on the reactions to the various films from the director Julien Duvivier by the so-called "young turks" and their mentors at Cahiers du Cinema which I posted on Sept 10 2006, I have consulted Eric Bonnefille's biography of Duvivier "Julien Duvivier Le mal aimant du cinema francais" which gives detailed reports on the critical reactions for all of Duvivier's films across the span of all Parisian critics. This post is culled from his reports on the films Duvivier made in the heyday of those "young turks". All translations are mine.
Marianne de ma jeunesse (1955)
(from pages 129-130)
"Nevertheless, Duvivier had rarely gotten such disastrous reviews, even if the better part of the critics respected his try at leaving the beaten path."
Bonnefille writes, "Duvivier found support only in a few papers." and lists 11 critics who turned thumbs down on the film and only 3 who gave it a thumbs up.
He also writes, "Six months later, François Truffaut, in an article on the 'Aging of Films', ranked Marianne among those [films] which are 'born out-of-date' and 'arrived in French cinema 15 years too late' reeking of a 'pre-war esthetic'. "
Voici le temps des assassins...(1956)
Bonnefille writes, "Once again, hostility dominates the press, except that the rejection is not as sweeping as that of Marianne, and, contrary to what we have a tendency to believe in retrospect, it was the critics of a "new generation" who came to Duviver's defense: François Truffaut, André S Labarthe, Jacques Donoil-Valcroze and Alexander Astruc."
" 'Here comes the time of surprises' " Truffaut exclaimed in Arts sure that this was Duvivier's best film, 'The one in which you feel of all the elements: screenplay, direction, acting, photography, music, etc. a control which is that of a filmmaker succeeding in a total sureness of himself and his craft' ".
Bonnefille quotes Astruc as saying, "The photography is admirable, all the compositions are exceptional. You taste a true joy to see this, because it is evident that French cinema errs a lot...by a contempt for mise-en-scene while one senses that Duvivier glories in it....He loves the people he works with."
Bonnefille quotes from Jacques Donoil-Valcroze writing in France-Observateur. "The mise-en-scene is of a great class...The direction is powerful, sober, dense with a kind of depth, profundity and intelligence which in literature is made by the art of a Balzac or Tolstoy."
Writing of André Labarthe's review in Cahiers, Bonnefille says, "He judges Duvivier's work 'of a faultless appearance. He bares witness to a straightforwardness rather rare among our directors.' "
Beyond these four Bonnefille lists only two other critics as being positive on this film, Jacques Nels and Georges Charensol. (Charensol would become one of the most vociferous of the anti-New Wave critics.)
Against these 6 whom Bonnefille finds positive on the film he matches 11 whose reviews he concludes were negative.
L'Homme à l'imperméable (1957)
Bonnefille rates 5 of the reviews for this film as being positive while he considers 7 to be negative.
Bonnefille quotes André Bazin in Le Parisien, "I am astonished that a director so sure of his metier offers us this superficial sketch."
Bonnefille quotes François Truffaut in Arts, "I can no longer bear Fernandel." But also, Truffaut wrote, "Duvivier's work, laborious but impeccable, cared for with a love which surpasses simple conscienciousness ... justifies going out of your way to see."
He considers Jacques Donoil-Valcroze's review in France-Observateur as being negative.
Bonnefille counts 11 reviews as being positive and 6 as being negative.
He writes this, "As for François Truffaut, he informed the readers of Cahiers du Cinema that Pot-Bouille was 'the opposite of an academic film, a work of irony, baroque, unbridled and mostly unexpected, a ferocious and almost involuntary parody of Gervaise a caricature of Zola, but one faithful and life-like, very clear, in brief, and as my dear friend Jean Domarchi says, Pot-Bouille is the butt-end in its pure state.' Once his lyricism was quenched Truffaut specifies all the same that this "is not a film d'auteur, it is quite the contrary!...But that does not prevent that the ferocity of Jeanson, his verve multiplied by the relentless gentleness of Duvivier, there results something unusual and pleasant.' " Further on in discussing the direction of actors in this film, Bonnefille quotes Truffaut, 'The direction of actors is here almost straight-up.' "
Discussing Michel Delahaye's (who has racked up around 300 contributions to Cahiers since 1953) review of this film in Cinema '57, Bonnefille writes, "For Michel Delahaye in Cinema '57 Zola is present 'but simplified...in the measure that they retain nothing of the ferment of events which can give place to an agreeable parade of typical images.' "
La Femme et le pantin(1959)
This film is almost the reverse of Pot-Bouille as there were by Bonnefille 11 critics whose reviews rate as negative with but 3 on the positive side.
The film was made at the zenith of Brigitte Bardot's and not surprisingly was purely a vehicle for her. In a review published in the April 1959 edition of Cahiers du Cinema Luc Moullet described the film as such, "not a film of Duvivier's but Bardot's film by Duvivier."
Bonnefille quotes Michel Mardore (who has almost 200 contributions to Cahiers beginning in the mid-50s) but who was writing here in Positif, calling the film "a vulgar-touristic pie in the face' where 'Duvivier amuses himself by making a Vadim pastiche."
Luc Moullet writing this time in Arts wrote of this film, "The camera roams a single room, but it's movement never succeeds in rendering, as happens in Rope, an isolated space. The actors are never directed when they are not talking, they appear to be sleeping on their feet....French "quality" cinema...starts with smart words and tragic lines invented by an established scenarist, -Henri Jeanson in this case - which always sound falser than false.
discusses new wave
In discussing the critical reception of this film by the Parisian critics, Bonnefille says, "one finds little real enthusiasm in the reviews." And he finds 2 of the reviews to be positive and 6 to be negative.
Bonnefille writes, "With 'Boulevard' Duvivier finds among the critics his share of defenders (often moderate) and detractors (sometimes relentless).
I thought that here it might be instructive to reprint the Bonnefille's quote from Georges Charensol's review. Charensol is remembered as one of the most vociferously anti-"New Wave" critics of that era.
"The defects of Boulevard are so obvious that they shield us a little from one of its qualities, its sense of popular life of which Duvivier has given so much testimony...But, all things considered, between the pretentious youngsters who believe that they have discovered cinema while parodying their elders and excellent artisans like Duvivier, my choice is quickly made." Charensol goes on to say, "[Leaud] loses his spontaneity which gave character to The 400 Blows. Stripped of this asset, his inexperience bursts out and, in spite of the energetic direction of Julien Duvivier, he plays and speaks falsely."
POSITIF AND DUVIVIER
The quote above from Michel Mardore concerning the film Le Femme and le pantin, which appeared in an article about Brigitte Bardot, is one of the few mentions of Duvivier's name in Positif in that period. Between the issue no. 4 in 1952 when it published a review of The Little World of Don Camillo and 1968 when it published a posthumous review of Diaboliquement, votre, Positif never reviewed a Duvivier film. Not only that, but searching through Bonnefille's exhaustive study of the reviews of Duvivier's films, I could find only 2 examples of Positif regulars reviewing Duvivier in other venues. Robert Benayoun reviewed La Chambre ardente for France-Observateur and Paul-Louis Thirard reviewed La Femme et le pantin for Les Lettres Francaises.
DUVIVIER AND JEAN-PIERRE LEAUD (page 180)
Jean-Pierre Leaud followed The 400 Blows up with Duvivier's film Boulevard. Bonnefille writes this about that encounter.
"During the shoot which lasted from 8 August to 30 September, the filmmaker had all he could do to deal with the rebellious Leaud. In Le Canard enchainé, Michel Duran let understand that conflicts were not rare. 'The technicians awaited with curiosity the first contact between the director and the young actor. It was conclusive, it appears. The young wiseguy soon revealed himself a lot more insolent than the other.' Duvivier hurried to write the newspaper that Leaud 'was never lacking in respect'. In fact, an altercation had effectively pitted him against the young boy who, having suggested to him that he take lessons from Truffaut, received a slap and deserted the set for a few days. [Bonnefille's source here is Robert Sabatier who wrote the novel the film is based on and who spent a great deal of time hanging around the set] No doubt this was not the only run-in. Jacques Duby [a co-star], however, remembers that Duviver gave proff of a patience towards the caprices of this 'unbearable but talented scamp', in the end obtaining from him 'all that he wanted.' "