My Gleanings

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Certain Tendency of French Cinema

translators note: What follows is a translation of François Truffaut article "Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Francaise" which was first published in Cahiers du Cinema in January 1954. One important and, usually, not discussed, point. This articles starting point is the final sentence of Andre Bazin's article "The Diary of a Country Priest and the stylistics of Robert Bresson" which was, “After ‘The Diary of a Country Priest‘, Aurenche and Bost are nothing more than the Viollet-Leduc of adaptation.” Even though, Bazin, who oversaw the writing of this article, did have some disagreements with this article, a knowledge of his article is necessary to understanding Truffaut's.
One small point, the term "Tradition of Quality" was coined by Jean-Pierre Barrot for the magazine L'Ecran Français in praise of these films about a year before Truffaut's article.

Note 12-14-2010: Translation edited to correct misspellings and clarify some poor original translations. Also, the end-notes were added.

Another reminder here, my inquiry into certain aspects of the controversy surrounding the writing of this article, "The Bernanos Letter" is available though this link.

A Certain Tendency of French Cinema

These notes have no object other than to define a certain tendency of French cinema, a tendency spoken of as psychological realism, and to sketch out some of its limitations.

Ten or Twelve films

While the French film industry produces about a hundred films every year, it is rightly understood that only ten or twelve merit retaining the attention of critics and film-lovers, and, thus, the attention of this magazine Cahiers du Cinema. These ten or twelve films make up what has been referred to notably as the Tradition of Quality. By their ambition, they compel the admiration of the foreign press, twice every year defending France’s colors at Cannes and at Venice, where, since 1946, they have quite regularly corralled medals, golden lions and grand prizes.
At the beginning of the sound period, French cinema was an honest marked-down copy of American cinema. Influenced by Scarface, we made the entertaining Pepe Le Moko. From that point, French screenwriting owes its most definite progress to Jacques Prevert, and Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows) lives on as the masterpiece of the school spoken of as “poetic realism”.
The war and the post-war years have transformed our cinema. It has evolved through internal pressure and in the place of “poetic realism” - which can be said to have died out, closing behind itself The Gates of Night (The Portes de la Nuit) - “psychological realism” represented by Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allgret and Marcel Pagliero, was substituted.

Films of Screenwriters

If we rightly remind ourselves that not long ago, Jean Delannoy directed Le Bossu and La Part de l'ombre, Claude Autant-Lara, Le Plombier amoureux and Lettres d'amour, and Yves Allegret, La Boîte aux rêves and Les Démons de l'aube, and that all of these films are properly known as strictly commercial ventures, we must admit that the success or failure of these filmmakers was a function of the screenplays that they chose. La Symphonie pastorale, Le Diable au corps, Jeux interdits, Manèges, Un homme marche dans la ville are basically films of screenwriters. Then, is the unquestionable evolution of French cinema due essentially to the transformation of scenarists and subjects, to the audacity taken vis-a-vis masterpieces, and finally to the trust given to the public to be sensitive with subjects generally characterized as difficult? That is why the only question here will be of scenarists, those who, precisely, are at root-source of psychological realism, the core of the Tradition of Quality: Jean Aurenche et Pierre Bost, Jacques Sigurd, Henri Jeanson (recent work), Robert Scipion, Roland Laudenbach, etc...

It Is Well Known Today

After having tried his hand at directing, shooting two forgotten short films, Jean Aurenche has specialized in adaptation. In 1936, he received credit, with Jean Anouilh, for writing the dialogue of Vous n'avez rien à déclarer and Les Dégourdis de la 11e. At the same time Pierre Bost was publishing in the NRF (Nouvelle Revue Francaise) some excellent novellas. Aurenche and Bost collaborated for the first time on Douce , writing the adaptation and the dialogue, which Claude Autant-Lara directed. No one today is unaware that Aurenche and Bost have transformed adaptation by shattering the idea that had been had of it, and that, for the earlier bias for the letter of the text, they have, one could say, substituted a respect for the spirit of the text, to the point that one of them has recently written this impudent aphorism: “An honest adaptation is a betrayal” (Carlo Rim, "Travelling et Sex-appeal").


The process called equivalence is the touchstone of adaptation as Bost and Aurenche practice it. This process assumes that there are in the novel being adapted scenes that are filmable and scenes that are not filmable and that instead of eliminating the latter (as was done not too long ago), scenes should be invented that the writer of the novel might have written for a film version. “To invent without betraying” is the order of the day that Aurenche and Bost like to cite, forgetting that one can also betray by omission. Aurenche and Bost’s system is so appealing in the enunciation of its principles that no one has ever thought to check its practice exhaustively.
This is just what I propose to do here.
The reputation of Aurenche and Bost rests wholely on two specific points;

1) Faithfulness to the spirit of the works that they are adapting.
2) The talent they bring into it.

This Much Spoken of Faithfulness

Since 1943, Aurenche and Bost have adapted and written the dialogue together for, Douce by Michel Davet. La Symphonie Pastorale by Andre Gide, Le Diable Au Corps by Raymond Radiguet, Un Recteur a L'Ile de Sein (film version Dieu a besoin des hommes) by Queffelec, Les Jeux Inconnus (Jeux interdits) by François Boyer, Le blé en herbe by Colette. Moreover, they have written an adaptation of Journal d'un curé de campagne which was never filmed, a screenplay dealing with Jeanne d'Arc only a part of which has recently been realized (by Jean Delannoy) and lastly the scenario and dialogue for L'auberge rouge (brought to the screen by Claude Autant-Lara).
Note the profound diversity of inspiration of the adapted works and authors. In order to achieve this tour de force of remaining consistently faithful to the spirit of Michel Davet, Andre Gide, Raymond Radiguet, Henri Queffelec, Francois Boyer, Colette, and Georges Bernanos, it is necessary to possess, I imagine, a mental agility, an uncommon multiplication of personality, as well as a singular eclecticism.
It must be remembered that Aurenche and Bost have been drawn into collaboration with the most diverse of directors; Jean Delannoy, for example, conceives of himself gladly as a mystic moralist. But the trifling lowness of Garcon Sauvage, the meanness of La Minute De Verite , the triviality of La Route Napoleon show very well the inconsistency of that calling. Claude Autant-Lara. on the other hand, is well-known for his non-conformism, his “advanced” ideas, and his ferocious anti-clericalism. Let us recognize in this filmmaker the merit of always remaining true to himself. Pierre Bost being the technician of the tandem, it is Jean Aurenche to whom it would seem one can be attributed the spiritual share of their common tasks . Educated by the Jesuits, Jean Aurenche has retained quite at once the nostalgia and the rebellion of that experience. If he flirted with surrealism, he seems to have sympathized with anarchists groups in the 1930s. Must I say more about how strong is personality is and also how that personality is incompatible with that of Gide, of Bernanos, of Queffelec and of Radiguet. But an examination of the works will, certainly, teach us more.
Father Amédée Ayffre knew very well how to analyze La Symphonie Pastorale and to delineate the relationship of the written work to the filmed work. “A reduction of faith to religious insight in Gide’s work, against now a reduction to rather limited insight. . . This decline of quality will be matched now, according to a law well known to aestheticians, by a increase in quantity. They will add two new characters: Piette and Casteran made responsible to represent certain feelings. Tragedy becomes drama, even melodrama ("Dieu au cinéma", p.131).
What troubles me about this much talked about process of equivalence is that I am not at all certain that a novel includes scenes that are not filmable, and yet less certain that the scenes ordained as not filmable be so for everyone. Praising Robert Bresson for his faithfulness to Georges Bernanos, Andre Bazin finished his excellent article, “The Style of Robert Bresson” with these words, “After The Diary of a Country Priest, Aurenche and Bost are nothing more than the Viollet-Leduc of adaptation.”
All those who know well and admire Bresson’s film remember the admirable scene in the confessionnal where Chantal’s face “began to appear little by little, by degrees” (Georges Bernanos). When several years prior to Bresson, Aurenche had written an adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest, an adaptation rejected by Georges Bernanos, Aurenche judged that scene to be not filmable and substituted the scene reproduced here:

Do you want me to hear you here?” (He points to the confessional.)
I never go to confession.
Yet, you must have gone to confess yesterday since you received communion this morning.
I did not receive communion.
He looks at her, very surprised.
Pardon me I gave you communion.
Chantal moves hurriedly towards the pew that she had occupied that morning.
Come and see.
The priest follows her. Chantal points to the missal she had left there.
Look in this book, Father. I probably no longer have the right to touch it.
The priest, most intrigued, opens the book and discovers there, between two pages, the host that Chantal had spit out. His face is dumbfounded and shattered.
I spit the host out. ”, Chantal says.
I see.”, the priest says with detachment.
You have never seen that, have you?”, Chantal says, hard and almost triumphant.
No, never”, the priest says, appearing calm.
And do you know what must be done?
The priest closes his eyes for a brief second, thinking it over or praying. He says, “This is very simple to repair, Miss. But it is horrible to commit.”
He heads towards the altar carrying the open book. Chantal follows him.
No, it is not horrible, what is horrible is to receive the host in a state of sin.“
So you are in a state of sin?
Less than others. but it is all the same to them.”
Do not judge.
I don’t judge, I condemn.” Chantal says, violently.
Be quiet before the body of Christ.”
He kneels before the altar, takes the host from the book and shallows it.

A discussion on faith in the middle of the novel pitted the priest against an obtuse atheist named Arsene. “When one dies, everything dies”. This discussion in the Aurenche-Bost adaptation takes place over the priest’s grave between Arsene and a different priest and ends that film. “When one dies, everything dies” would have been the last line of that film. The one that carried it. Maybe, the only one that the public remembered. Bernanos did not conclude with, “When one dies, everything dies” but “Whatever happens, all is grace”.
“To invent without betrayal”, you say. It seems to me to be a case of quite a little bit of invention for a great deal of betrayal. A detail or two still. Aurenche and Bost could not make Diary of a Country Priest because Bernanos was living. Robert Bresson has declared that, Bernanos being alive, he would have taken more liberty with the book. So, Aurenche and Bost are inconvenienced by Bernanos’ being alive, while Robert Bresson is inconvenienced by Bernanos’ being dead.

The Mask Torn Off

From a simple reading of this excerpt, this emerges:

1) A continual and deliberate problems of infidelity to the spirit as to the letter.
2) A very noticeable taste for profanity and blasphemy.

The infidelity to the spirit taints as well Le Diable Au Corps that story of love which became a film both anti-militarist and anti-bourgeois, La Symphonie Pastorale, Gide’s story of an amorous pastor becomes Béatrix Beck, Un Recteur de L’ile de Sein, (whose title they swapped for the suggestive Dieu a Besoin des Hommes) in which the islanders are shown to us like the memorable “cretins” of Bunuel’s Land Without Bread.
As for the taste for blasphemy, it shows itself constantly, in a manner more or less insidious, according to the subject, the director, indeed even the star.
I recall from memory the confessional scene in Douce, Martha’s burial in Le Diable Au Corps, the profaned hosts in their adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest ( a scene transferred to Dieu a besoin des hommes), the complete screenplay and Fernandel’s character in L’Auberge Rouge, all the scenario of Jeux Interdits, (the brawl in the cemetery).
All of this points out that Aurenche and Bost are writers of openly anti-clerical films, but as films featuring cassocks are the style, our authors have taken to bowing to this style. But - they think - that in order to not betray their convictions, the thesis of blasphemy and profanation, the dialogue of double-entendres, they prove, here and there. to friends that they know the art of “screwing the producer” while giving him satisfaction, and “screwing” the just as satisfied general public.
This process deserves the name “alibism”: it is excusable and its use is a necessity in an epoque when one is required to constantly feign stupidity in order to work intelligently. But, if it is the good war to “screw the producer”, is it not a bit outrageous to thus “re-write” Gide, Bernanos and Radiguet?
In truth, Aurenche and Bost work like all the screenwriters of the world, as Spaak or Natanson did before the war. In their mind, the whole story is comprise of the characters A B C D. At the heart of this equation, all is organized by function of criteria known to them alone. The sleeping around occurs according to a well-planned collective symmetry, some characters disappear as others are invented, little by little the script distances itself from the original becoming something that is rough yet glossy, Step by step, a new film makes its solemn entry into the Tradition of Quality.

Very Well, You Will Say To Me

You will say to me, “We’ll agree that Aurenche and Bost are not faithful, but, do you then deny their talent?” Talent, indeed, is not a function of fidelity, but I can imagine a worthy adaptation only if written by a man of cinema. Aurenche and Bost are basically men of literature and I criticize them here for holding film in contempt by underestimating it. They behave toward the scenario like someone who thinks that they are reforming a delinquent by finding him work. They always believe themselves to be “doing the maximum” by paring its subtlety, that science of nuance that makes short shrift of modern novels. Meanwhile, there is not the least traverse interpretation of our art in thinking we grace it by using literary jargon. (Don’t they speak of Sartre and Camus in the work of Pagliero, and of phenomenology in the work of Allegret?)
In truth, Aurenche and Bost water down the works that they adapt as the evidence shows, either in the direction of betrayal or in the direction of timidity.
Here is quick example: In Radiguet’s Le Diable Au Corps, Francois meets Martha on a platform in a train station. Martha jumps from a moving train; in the film, they meet in a school transformed into a hospital. What is the purpose of this equivalence? To permit the scenarists to bring in anti-militarist elements added to the work, in collaboration with Claude Autant-Lara. Now. it is evident that Radiguet’s idea was cinematic while the scene devised by Aurenche and Bost’s is purely literary. One could, you can believe it, multiply these examples into infinity.

One Day It Will Be Most Necessary

Secrets are kept for only a short time, recipes are revealed, new scientific knowledge becomes the subject of papers at the Academy of Science and, since, to believe Aurenche and Bost, adaptation is an exact science, one day it will be necessary that they apprise us in the name of what standard, in accordance with what system, with what internal, mysterious geometry of the work, do they cut, add to, multiply, divide and “repair” masterpieces? Having once expressed the idea that these equivalences are only timid tricks to skirt the problem, to resolve on the sound track problems that concern the frame, a good cleaning in order to no longer put on the screen anything except for the knowledgeable framing, complicated lighting, polished photography, now all the perennials of “the tradition of quality”, the time comes to examine the films Aurenche and Bost have adapted and written the dialogue for, and to seek the persistence of certain ideas which will explain, but not justify, the constant infidelity of these two screenwriters to the works that they take for “pretext” and “opportunity”.
Summed up in two lines, here is how screenplays treated by Aurenche and Bost reveal themselves.
La Symphonie pastorale: He is a pastor. He loves and he has no right to.
Le Diable au corps: They make love and they have no right to.
Dieu a besoin des hommes: He says Mass, gives blessings and the last Sacraments and he has no right to.
Jeux interdits: They bury and they have no right to.
Le Blé en herbe: They love each other and they have no right to.
You may well tell me that I also recount here the story of the novel, which I do not deny. But I would remind you that Gide has also written: "La Porte etroite", Radiguet : "Le Bal du Comte d'Orgel", and Colette : "La Vagabonde", and that not one of these novels has tempted Delannoy or Autant-Lara. Let me also point out screenplays, which I do not believe it would be useful to speak of here, that accord with my theory: Au delà des grilles, Le Château de verre, L'Auberge rouge ... Thus the skill of the promoters of the Tradition of Quality to chose only subjects which lend themselves to the misunderstandings on which the whole system rests. Under the cover of literature, and - of course, of quality - they give the public its customary dose of gloom, non-conformity and facile audaciousness.

The Influence of Bost and Aurenche is Huge

Writers who have compose film dialogue observe the same imperatives; Anouilh, between the dialogue for Dégourdis de la 11e and Un caprice de Caroline chérie, has introduced his universe into more ambitious films, a universe which is awash in a bitterness of disorder, with Nordic mists transposed to Brittany (Pattes blanches) as a background. Another writer, Jean Ferry, also conforms to the fashion and the dialogue for Manon could very well have been written by Aurenche and Bost. “He thinks I am a virgin, and in real life, he’s a professor of psychology.” No better to hope for from young screenwriters. Simply, they are taking over, being careful not to play around with any of the taboos. Jacques Sigurd, a newcomer to “scenario and dialogue”, teams up with Yves Allegret. Together, they have furnished French cinema with some of it blackest masterpieces. Dédée d'Anvers, Manèges, Une si jolie petite plage, Les Miracles n'ont lieu qu'une fois and La jeune folle. Jacques Sigurd has very quickly adapted himself to the formula. He must be endowed with an admirable disposition for syntheses as his screenplays oscillate between Aurenche and Bost, Prevert, and Clouzot, the whole being glibly modernized. Religion never plays its role, but blasphemy always makes its timid entrance thanks to some little angels or good sisters who cut across the screen when their presence is most unexpected. (Manèges, Une si jolie petite plage). Crudity, through which they aspire to “stir the guts of the bourgeios”, is found in lines like “He is old, he could croak” (Manèges) In Une si jolie petite plage Jane Marken envies the prosperity of Berck because of its tuberculosis patients: their families come to visit them and they bring their trade. (Think of the prayer of The Rector de l'Ile de Sein).
Roland Laudenbach, who would seem to be the most gifted of his brethren, has collaborated on the most typical films of this state of mind: La Minute de vérité, Le Bon Dieu sans confession, La Maison du silence. Robert Scipion is a gifted man of letters; he has written only one book, a privately printed book of pastiche; he daily frequents the cafes of Saint-Germain-des-Prés; he has the friendship of Marcel Pagliero who is called the Sartre of cinema probably because his films resemble articles in “Les Temps Modernes”. Here is some dialogue from Les Amants de Brasmort a populist film whose “heroes” are seamen, as the dockers are the heroes of Un homme marche dans la ville, “Woman are friends who are made to bed down.” “You do what procures for yourself, for that you will get up on anyone, you can say that again.” In one reel of film towards its end, in less than six minutes, the words “ slut, whore, bitch and bullshit” can be heard. Now, is this realism?

Thinking Back to Prevert

Considering the monotony and steadfast baseness of the scripts of today, one finds oneself thinking back to the scripts of Jacques Prevert. He believes in the devil, and thus, in God. And, if most of his characters were burdened by all the sins of creation through this lone whim, room still was left for a couple, a new Adam and Eve, on whom, as the film ends, the story is going to recommence for the better.

Psychological realism; not real, not psychological

Barely only seven or eight screenwriters are working regularly in French cinema. Each of these screenwriters has only one story to tell and each aspires to success at the “deux grands; it is no exaggeration to say that the one hundred or so French films shot each year recount the same story: the victim, in general, a cuckold. (This cuckold would be the only sympathetic character in the film, if he was not immensely ridiculous: Blier-Vilbert, etc.). The deceit of those close to him and the devote hatred borne between his family members, lead the “hero” to his ruin, the injustice of life and, for local color, the meanness of all others (the priests, caretakers, neighbors, passers-by, the rich and the poor, the soldiers etc)
Amuse yourself through long winter evenings trying to find the titles of the French films which do not conform within this framework and, while you are there, discover in which of these films this sentence or its equivalent does not figure as dialogue spoken by the film’s most contemptible couple. “There are always those who have money ( or ’luck’, or ’love’, or ’happiness’ ), oh! things are so unjust right to the end”. This school which aims for realism always destroys it right at the exact moment of reaching it, so anxious is it to contain its characters in a sealed-off world, barricaded there by formulas, word games, and maxims, which let them show off what they are, right in front of our eyes. The artist cannot always dominate his work. He is sometimes its God, other times its creature. One knows the modern play whose main character, in peak form when the curtain rises, finds himself fully amputated as the play ends, as a successive loss of each of his limbs having marked the changing of the acts. Curious world where the least failed of actors uses the word Kafkaesque to denote its domestic modifications. This kind of cinema comes straight out of literature, half Franz Kafka, half Emma Bovary! Films are no longer shot in France except if the authors believe that they are rewriting “Madame Bovary”. For the first time in French literature, authors adopt a far away relationship as regards to their subject, that subject becoming like an insect encircled under an entomologist’s microscope. But, if, at the beginning of his enterprise, Flaubert might have said, “I’ll drag them all through the mud -- with justification” (such as the authors of today would so gladly make for their epigraph), he had to declare after the fact, “Madame Bovary, that is me” and, I doubt that today’s authors could repeat this sentence in the own personal manner.

Staging, the Director, and the Texts

The subject of these notes is limited to an examination of film solely in point of view of screenplays and screenwriters. But I think I should state that directors are and should want to be responsible for the scenarios and the dialogue that they delineate. Films of screenwriters, I wrote earlier, and indeed Aurenche and Bost will not contradict me. When they hand in their screenplay, the film is finished; the director, in their eyes, is the fellow who puts frames around that screenplay. And, alas, that is the truth. I spoke of this mania for adding burial sequences everywhere. And yet, death is always sidestepped in these films. Let us remember the realistic death of Nana or of Emma Bovary in the Renoir films. In La Symphonie Pastorale, death is simply an exercise in make-up and cinematography. Compare a close-up of the dead Michele Morgan in that film with Dominique Blanchard in Le Secret de Mayerling and with Madeleine Sologne dans L'Eternel retour, it is the same visage. Everything happens after death.
Let us cite this declaration from Jean Delannoy that with perfidy we will dedicate to French screenwriters. “When it happens that talented authors, either in the chase for money or through weakness, surrender one day to film-writing, they do it with a deep sense of having abased themselves. They give in more to a strange effort towards mediocrity, anxious as they are of not compromising their talent, and some, in order to write for the cinema, must understand themselves from the bottom.” (La Symphonie pastorale or L'Amour du métier, in the journal Verger, November 1947). I must immediately challenge a sophism which you will not fail to confront me with as an argument. “This dialogue is spoken by scoundrels and to better expose their baseness we furnish them with this tough language. This is our way of being moralists.” To which, I reply that it is inaccurate that these words are mouthed by the most wretched characters.
Indeed, in “psychological realist” cinema, there are nothing but ignoble characters, so much do the authors claim a superiority over their characters that those who, by some chance, are not revolting are immensely grotesque. Finally, these abject characters who speak these abject words, I know a handful of men in France who are incapable of conceiving them, some filmmakers whose vision of the world is at least as worthy as that of Aurenche and Bost, or Jacques Sigurd and Henri Jeanson. I am speaking here of Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Jéan Cocteau, Jacques Becker, Abel Gance, Max Ophuls, Jacques Tati and Roger Leenhardt. This is a group of French filmmakers and we find - curious coincidence - that they are authors who often write their own dialogue and sometimes invent the stories that they put up on the screen.

I am Still Going to be Told

“But why“, I am still going to be told, “why can you not bring a similar appreciation to all the filmmakers who work at the center of this Tradition of Quality which you mock so freely? Why not admire Yves Allegret as much as Jacques Becker, Jean Delannoy as much as Robert Bresson, or Claude Autant-Lara as much as Jean Renoir?” Well, I do not believe in the peaceful co-existence of the Tradition of Quality and the cinema of auteurs. At base, Yves Allegret and Jean Delannoy are but caricatures of Henri-Georges Clouzot or Robert Bresson. It’s not the desire to cause a scandal that leads me to deprecate a cinema so praised elsewhere. I remained convinced that the unduly prolonged existence of “psychological realism” is the cause of the public’s incomprehension when confronted by works as new in concept as “Le Carrosse d'or“, “Casque d'or“, and, indeed “Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne” and “Orphée“.
Long live that gall, indeed. Still it needs to be revealed where it is truly. At the end of this year, 1953, were it necessary for me to make a catalogue of the audacities of French cinema, you would not find there the vomiting of “Les Orgueilleux”, nor the refusal of Claude Laydu to be blessed with holy water in “Le Bon Dieu sans confession”, nor the pederasty of the characters in “Le Salaire de la peur“, but rather Mr. Hulot’s pace, the maid’s soliloquies in “La Rue de l'Estrapade“, the staging of “Le Carrosse d'or“, the direction of the actors in “Madame de”, as well as Abel Gance’s experiments with multiple screen projection. You will have to understand that these are the audacities of men of cinema and not of scenarists, of metteurs-en-scene and not of mere scribblers. I will hold up as an example the significant failure that the most brilliant directors and scenarists of the Tradition of Quality encounter when they venture into comedy: Ferry-Clouzot: “Miquette et sa mère“, Sigurd-Boyer: “Tous les chemins mènent à Rome“, Scipion-Pagliero: “La Rose rouge“, Laudenbach-Delannoy: “La Route Napoléon“, Aurenche-Bost and Autant-Lara: “L'Auberge rouge” or if you want “Occupe-toi d'Amélie”. Anyone who has ever attempted to write a screenplay knows very well that comedy is the most difficult of genres, that which asks the most work, the most talent and also the most humility.

All Things Bourgeois

The dominant trait of psychological realism is an anti-bourgeois disposition. But what are Aurenche and Bost, Sigurd, Jeanson, Autant-Lara, and Allegret, if not bourgeois? And what are the fifty thousand new readers who never fail to attend each film based on a novel, if not bourgeois? What is the merit of an anti-bourgeois cinema made by the bourgeois for the bourgeois? How well we know that workers rarely appreciate this kind of cinema even when it aims to identify with them. They refused to recognize themselves as the stevedores of “Un homme marche dans la ville” or as the seamen of “Les Amants de bras-mort “ Maybe it is necessary to send the children out onto the landing in order to make love, but their parents scarcely like to hear themselves say it, especially on film, even “benevolently”. If the public likes to slum under the guise of literature, it also likes doing it under the guise of social issues. We perceive that perhaps the working class prefers simple little foreign films because these show people such as they ought to be and not such as Aurenche and Bost believe they are.

As One Palms Off a Good Address

It is always good to conclude, that pleases everyone. It is noteworthy that the “great” directors and the “great” scenarists all made little films a long time ago and that the talent that they brought there did not suffice to distinguish them from the others (those who did not bring talent). It is also noteworthy that they have also come to Quality at the same time, as one palms off a good address. And then a producer earns more - and even a director - earns more money making Le Ble en Herbe than The Passionate Plumber. “Courageous” films reveal themselves to be profitable. The proof: Ralph Habib abruptly renounces the semi-pornographic, directs Les Compagnes de la nuit and declares himself Cayatte.
Now what prevents Andre Tabet, Jacques Companeez, Jean Guitton, Pierre Very, Jean Laviron, Yves Ciampi, Gilles Grangier from, overnight, making intellectual cinema, from adapting the masterpieces (if any remain), and, of course, of adding burials all over the place? Thus, on that day, we will be in the "Tradition of Quality" up to our necks and French cinema, looking to surpass itself with “psychological realism”, with “harshness”, with “strictness”, with “double meaning” will no longer be anything other than a vast burial ground where one could exit the Billancourt studio to enter quite directly the cemetery which seems to have been placed along side it quite expressly in order to pass straightaway from producer to gravedigger. Only, by means of repeating to the public which it identifies with the “heroes’ of its films, it will in the end believe this and, on that day when it will understand that this great big cuckold of misadventure whom they are solicited to pity (a little) and to laugh at (a lot) is not, as they thought, their cousin or their neighbor across the hall, but themselves; and this abject family, their family, this scoffed religion, their religion; and thus, on that day, they risks showing themselves ungrateful towards a cinema which is applying itself to show life such as one sees it on a fourth floor on Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Certainly, I have to recognize it, of passion and even of prejudice overseeing the deliberately pessimistic scrutiny that I have undertaken of a certain tendency of French cinema. I am assured that this well-known school of psychological realism has to be, in order that Le Journal d'un curé de campagne, Le Carrosse d'or, Orphée, Casque d'or, and Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot can in their turn can be. But our authors who want to elevate the public have to understand that, maybe, they have deviated from from the primary roads to engage it for those, subtler, of psychology. They have pass into the sixth class so dear to Jouhandeau but a class can not be redoubled indefinitely.


1. La Symphonie pastorale. Characters added for the film: Piette, Jacques’ fianceé; Casteran, Piette’s father. Characters cut out, three children of the pastor. In the film. no mention is made of what became of Jacques after Gertrude’s death. In the book, Jacques takes holy orders.
“Operation La Symphonie pastorale” 1) André Gide himself writes an adaptation of his book; 2) This adaptation is deemed “unfilmable”; 3) In their turn, Jean Aurenche and Jean Delannoy write an adaptation; 4) Gide rejects this; 5) Pierre Bost joins the team placating everyone.

2. Le Diable au corps. During one of Andre Parinaud’s radio broadcasts, Claude Autant-Lara asserted substantially this, "What lead me to make a film based on “Le Diable au corps” was my view that it is an anti-war novel". On the same broadcast, François Poulenc, a friend of Raymond Radiguet, spoke of never recognizing the book while watching the film.

3. Jean Aurenche (who would have directed Journal d'un curé de campagne) replied to the prospective producer who was astonished to see the character of Dr. Delbende eliminated, “Maybe in ten years a screenwriter will be able to retain a character who dies half-way through the film, I don’t think myself capable of that.” Three years later, Robert Bresson retained Dr. Delbende and had him die half-way through the film.

4. Aurenche and Bost never have said that they are “faithful”. The critics did that.

5. Le Blé en herbe. Colette’s novel has been adapted since 1946. Claude Autant-Lara accused Roger Leenhardt of having plagiarized it with Les Dernières vacances. In arbitration, Maurice Garçon ruled against Claude Autant-Lara.
With Aurenche and Bost, the plot dreamt up by Colette was enhanced with a new character, that of “Dick” a lesbian who lived with the “White Lady” [main character of the novel and film]. this character was eliminated a few weeks before shooting commenced on the film by Mme. Ghislaine Auboin who “reviewed” the adaptation with Claude Autant-Lara.

6. Aurenche and Bost characters tend to speak in truisms. Some examples:
La Symphonie pastorale: “Oh, children such as that, it would be better if they were not born” -- “Not everyone has the luck to be born blind” -- “A disabled person is someone who pretends to be like everyone.”
Le Diable au corps (A soldier has lost a leg): “Maybe this is the last one wounded.” -- “That will make a beautiful leg for him.”
Jeux Interdits (Forbidden Games): Francis: “What does it mean ‘the cart before the horse’.” Berthe: “Like okay, it is what we are doing.(they are making love.)” Francis: “I am at a loss why that is said.”

7. Jean Aurenche was a member of the crew of Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne but he had to part company with Bresson due to an incompatibility of inspiration.

8. An extract of the dialogue by Aurenche and Bost for Jeanne d’Arc was published in La Revue du Cinema (no. 8, page 9)

9. In fact, psychological realism originates parallel to poetic realism with the tandem Spaak-Feyder. Someday, it will be quite necessary to commence an ultimate quarrel “Feyder” before that one falls into complete oblivion.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'd like to thank you for making this available to all film students out there.

18/3/08 13:43  
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19/5/08 12:46  
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13/7/08 10:41  
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17/7/08 13:59  
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25/7/08 14:52  
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26/4/10 07:07  
Blogger Unknown said...

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14/11/10 10:31  
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21/10/11 08:55  

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