My Gleanings

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Christian-Jaque, Jean Devaivre, René Wheeler thumbnails

These are three more of the thumbnail critiques form the May 1957 "Situation of French Cinema" special issue of Cahiers du Cinema.


Were talent measured by productivity, he would be king; by the length of tracking shots, he would be emperor; by receipts, he would be the Pope. Unfortunately, his ambitions are more short-term. His best films (L'Enfer des anges, Les Disparus de Saint-Agil, L'Assassinat du Père Noël) today seem forced. Martine Carol deserves better than Lucrèce Borgia, Nana, and Madame DuBarry. Fanfan la Tulipe is competent, but somewhat warped and dry on a second viewing. Trying his hand at "generosity", he tripped over Si tous les gars du monde. From a commercial point of view, his success can not be questioned and his films open foreign markets to French productions. With his wife Martine, he made a triumphant tour of the world, an excellent pair of ambassadors for French cinema.It needs such. But it also needs to be rigorous with this likable and intelligent man who, for the moment, leaves cinema with only two or three morsels of anthology (the tracking shot of the song of the "p'tit cordonnier" and the horse in the mist in Sortilèges, the battle scenes from D'homme à hommes). He has defined "director", thusly, "A one-man band who while playing all his instruments must avoid cacophony." Has he avoided that in any one of his films?

Jean Devaivre
In light of the contretemps Bertrand Tavernier-Cahiers du Cinema that surrounded that release of Tavernier's Laissez-passer in 2002 which told the story of the war-time exploits of this director and also screenwriter Jean Aurenche, it is interesting to see what was written in Cahiers in 1957 about Devaivre. This thumbnail is reputed to have been written by Claude Chabrol. Devaivre directed two films in the Caroline, cherie series.

One-time editor who began his career with the second Le Roi des reaquilleurs, he possesses a remarkable sense of rhythm and his La Dame d'onze heure can be considered excellent. He was ambitious with La ferme des sept péchés, a commercial failure but a highly respectable film. Then, he specialized in uninteresting carolinades. He is returning after a long silence to the detective story.

René Wheeler
This writer-director was also a character in Tavernier's Laissez-passer. He was old friend whom Jean Aurenche sees reduced to selling shoelaces on the curb and whom Aurenche presses into service as a co-writer.

Inconsistent screenwriter, inconsistent director. Premières armes lacks neither courage nor originality, but nevertheless it is an unsteady, irritating, conventional film. But Châteaux en Espagne is a beautiful, unsung work. Everything there is unique, the realism, the dark poetry, the respect for language, the contentiousness of the play of the actors. This is "la minute de verité", it is also one of those rare films romanesque. . . and modern. Uneasy temperament, knowing full well where facility begins and ends, and gifted only for difficult and thankless works, Wheeler would need a complete freedom to be an "auteur of films": our Zinnemann.

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