My Gleanings

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cahiers and the Tradtion of Quality May 1957

In the May 1957 "Situation of French Cinema" special issue of Cahiers du Cinema an article featured sixty French directors with a capsule chronology and filmography and a thumbnail critique for each one. These thumbnails were written by Charles Bitsch, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Donoil-Valcroze, Claude de Givray, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Lachenay, Louis Marcorelles and Luc Moullet. The presence of “Robert Lachenay” in this group reveals the participation of François Truffaut.

Yves Allegret

Dédée d'Anvers, Une si jolie petite plage, Manèges and Les Orgueilleux form a coherent whole with a progression towards a mastery of style and a world-vision, questionable as it be. This noir suite denounces injustice and social hypocrisy, greed, the corrupting power of money, the loneliness of those who do not play the game and the impossibility of love. Praiseworthy concerns, but mingles with an indulgence for the that is shown, No matter, the undertaking was viable, strewn with robust scenes, taken from uncompromising ethnological documents on man who is referred to as civilized but who is in the twentieth century savage. Then came three failures. Even should this remain the state of things, Yves Allégret deserves a paragraph in the history of cinema, but no more than that.

Marcel Carné

Gamboling not without some awkwardness in a private world of the most formal poetry (Les Visiteurs du soir, Juliette ou La clef des songes) but asserting a consistent taste for recreating the atmosphere of an epoque (Drôle de drame, and Les Enfants du paradis which so enchanted the Anglo-Saxon spectators). Carné is quite himself only as a populist. He has frequented all the little bistros of the Republic, of the faubourg Saint Martin or of Boulogne-Billancourt, the dance halls and the furnished townhouses. His Parisien films have the “back-to-work” sourness of the day after a holiday when it is necessary to return to work. He remains quite strictly tied to a social period -- the Popular Front. Carné lived his golden age at the core of one of the most perfect teams of French cinema -- Prevert, Trauner, Jaubert and Gabin. friends quarrel intensely and do good work together. Today Carné must defend by himself a prestigious reputation, but he is still the good artisan whom we knew before 1939. Mad lover of impeccable work, tending towards a formalism a little too dried out that he perhaps inherited from his master, Jacques Feyder.

Claude Autant-Lara

For many producers, he is the surest of the prominent directors. this blessing constrains him to subjects less demanding and less personal than he might want (but he pressed Marguerite de la nuit, one of his poorer films), Censorship has also played him some dirty tricks. For these two reasons, the ensemble of his work, careful, intelligent, and skillful does not avoid a certain classicism which poorly fits this auteur - passionate, mettlesome, explosive, quarrelsome and “committed”, but also aesthetic and sentimental. For this reason, one must wonder if, with the march of time, Diable au corps and Le Blé en herbe will still scandalize the right-thinking. Our wager: these films will pass for romantic - which perhaps they are - which certainly Le rouge et le Noir is, despite that the accent is placed there on social rather than psychological drama. By contrast, La Traversée de Paris, represents in his body of work, the ideal convergence of the ambitions of the auteur and public success. If the fashion of judging the world there is more out of the 1930s - an epoque where the judgment of an Autant-Lara or an Aurenche is set - than of 1957, if thus this fashion of judgment was then more revealing than today, it is less that Autant-Lara has preserved the spirit of his youth for which he should be reproached than to the time-lags and contradictions of production. He is attracted to stories of adolescent love but his “children who love” remain, in general, rather theoretic. And that is why the bitter and always revolting of Lara is better accommodated by a pitiless analysis of disagreeable characters such as those of La Traversée de Paris.

Carlo Rim
As “Carlo” does rhyme with “bravo”, let us regret not being able to applaud his work. L’ Armoire volante, in taking us to cloud nine, was not a “signed Levitan”. The sketch film La Gourmandise left us dreaming of enchanting tomorrows: one must not feel disenchanted. If René Clair’s fault is not allowing himself to be guided by his instinct, Carlo Rim, by contrast, would gain by more self-analysis and better self-control: the crudities would be prevented from becoming vulgarities, the bawdiness from becoming obscenity, and the jokes from becoming oafish. His comic style makes him a cabaret artist-filmmaker who came too late to mise-en-scene. As with Franju and Roquier, the pre-war climate would have been more propitious to the fostering of his talent. The young cinephiles prefer “Admiral” Carbonnaux to this montmartrois, Carlo Rim.

André Cayatte

After nine average films where only the skillfulness of Le Chanteur inconnu stands the test of time, he made the last of the great Jacques Prevert films Les Amants de Vérone, a work confused and often irritating but more often moving in its tragic and poetic expression of destiny. Would he be the new Carné? No, his reputation and celebrity since, and (including Justice est faite) rests on four “thesis” (whatever that means) films: distinguished, demanding, skillful and often courageous and which, legal pleas rather than works of art, defy esthetic judgment and the “crtitique ofbeautés”. He defends his ideas as one defends one’s clients, speaking to the gallery. Here, a series of techniques and gestures which might have a polemic value but which are not relevant to the art of film. Oeil pour Oeil, shot entirely on location and without any thesis will be awfully revealing. He speaks primarily for himself.

René Clair

A complete film auteur who, form the silent era has brought to French cinema intelligence, finesse, humor, and an intellectualism a bit dry but smiling and in good taste. He was very nearly hobbled by the “talkie” but he quickly understood that his style, inherited from the French “primitives” could easily adapt to this additional frill. Quatorze Juillet marks a high point. What follows appears more labored, but “quality” remains. His four post-war films demonstrate an evolution but betray a certain difficulty in finding subjects and end with Les Grandes manoeuvres, a finely chiseled and melancholy work. Porte des Lilas is announced as a more unusual film with finer turns. In whatever manner that his career continues, he has created a cinematographic universe which is his own, a universe rigorous and not shorn of fantasy, thanks to which he remains one of the greatest film-makers.

René Clément

To call him the greatest French director would be a gratuitous compliment, if one did not imply that Renoir or Bresson are greater because they are more auteurs. All the more so as he as proven in Monsieur Ripois that his talent could flourish without the help of Aurenche and Bost and as he is now, with Irvin Shaw, the author of the adaptation of Un barrage contre la Pacifique whose mastery and quality we can logically presume. More than everything else, beyond their scenarists, all Clément’s films - including his only failure Le Château de verre- manifest a continuous philosophy which is well the doing of their director. His characters are all prisoners of historical or geographical conditions or, more simply of themselves and it is their desperate battle to break through the bars and vanquish their solitude. Battles, doomed to failure or derision, which he paints for us with a meticulous and lucid realism which broaches at once both cruelty and lyricism. He is more than the obstinate architect of proud buildings constructed in tailored stone, more than a majestic director of actors, more than the master of a rigorous style, he is also -- in the proportion that one can measure living artists -- the “film genius”.

Henri-Georges Clouzot

At the age of seven, he wrote a play whose protagonist rid himself of his wife by putting nails in her soup. The story of his life reveals him to be stubborn, clear-sighted, concerned to express the “hard face” of existence. This is a “film auteur”. “I do not believe,” he says, “in a director who is not his own writer.“ He loves his metier. “I am most of all physical, but my greatest pleasure in directing a film, is the shooting, the editing.” He depicts situation with no concern for the judgments of society, but he puts himself in danger of taking the bite from his films by targeting too great a number of spectators. “I work for the Gaumont-Palace,” he proclaims. But we know so well that his concerns, his obsessions -- perversion, true cruelty -- are not compatible with the wants of the great public. Thus, how Clouzot is careful of self-censorship. Furthermore, he knows where he is going and why, in his gallery of monsters, he puts great emphasis on the revolting, the sadistic, the subversive, the executioner. By subtraction, he little-by-little reveals, with the sharpness of a photographic negative, the dazzling image of pure innocence and of selfless friendship.

Jean Delannoy

More than festival awards, his films have most often known success with the public, and, as much evidence confirms it, have “touched” the spectators. A paradoxical situation, since, what critics in general have mostly reproached him -- who has given us this definition “cinema is a movement of the heart” -- for the coldness of his narration and the dryness of his direction, despite a sureness of technique and a copiousness of craft. Academicism, a superficial exploitation of great literary or social problems, say the most severe. Is this only a pre-judgment? Well a critic as perceptive and little inclined to vehemence as Pierre Lephoron came to this conclusion which we will make our own: “One would have to believe that the director of Marie-Antoinette reine de France tends toward an art that he is incapable of attaining, that his ambitions, as noble as they are, lead him and his finished work astray.”

Julien Duvivier

Some tell you that today’s Duvivier is not worthy of yesterday’s Duvivier and rate L’Affaire Maurizius by wailing for Pépé le Moko. One could respond by burning Un carnet de bal in the name of Sous le ciel de Paris. In fact, Duvivier’s career is like a temperature chart with spiked highs and vertiginous slumps that, when led back to a happy medium witnesses an enviable warmth. If it it is rare that his films make rapt, it is rarer that his films make bored. His taste for a certain style of the baroque, culminating with La Fête à Henriette make him the champion of the unexpected, often guileful, sometimes aggravating. Constructed in stucco rather than cut in marble, his structures are not those that last but perishables are not the lest of foodstuffs.

Jean Grémillon

Since 1953, Jean Grémillon has not directed a feature film. However, Remorques, Lumière d'été and Le 6 juin à l'aube suffice to assure him renown. But, from one who, after the Liberation was considered the most complete French director: better still, it was hoped, above all, that his culture and his moderation would undoubtedly permit him to fill the delicate role of giving our screen that social conscience that it still lacks. But the imperatives of production decided otherwise and Grémillon’s character did the rest. These half-solutions didn’t suit him which his last three films illustrate, yet though that L’Amour d'une femme deserved a better reception.

Henri Decoin

A little out-of-fashion with his silk scarf in his open-collar shirt. But what of it! Directors who are indulged by history shoot what they want, when they want, where they want. And since long ago, Henri Decoin is one among them. He shoots anything, anywhere, with anyone, but not anyway, however. Decoin spurs integrity to all way to reflection on the subjects offered to him. Light-hearted, some twenty years ago, when his heart beat for Danielle Darrieux, his name now weighs heavily in the arguments of producers. For Henri knows, without panache, to adapt himself to all genres, all styles. Why reproach him for this facility? it permits him to be the darling child of the distributors. What says it better?

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