Tuesday, September 02, 2014



This interesting French film, directed by Marcel Carné and set after the liberation of Paris but before the end of the war, has a little bit of everything: it's mostly a realistic story but it has a front-and-center fantasy element; it's serious but there are light moments; it's grounded in everyday reality but there is a poetic, romantic streak running through it; it even has a film noir feel both visually and in some of the plot and character arcs. The realistic story involves the problem of those Parisians who were considered to be collaborators with the Nazis during the Occupation, some more actively than others. Resistance fighter Jean Diego (Yves Montand) comes to Paris in February 1945 to tell Mme. Lécuyer that her husband was taken off to be executed, but happily, he finds Lécuyer alive at home, having escaped. Diego had overheard Lécuyer being ratted out but didn't see who did it. Later, he hears a voice and recognizes it as the betrayer: Guy Sénéchal (Serge Reggiani), the son of Lécuyer’s landlord, who himself is shunned for his collaborationist tendencies.

In another narrative arc, the landlord's daughter Malou (Nathalie Nattier) has come to visit and Diego falls for her before he learns that she's unhappily married to Georges (Pierre Brasseur), who eventually comes looking for her. That night, Diego and Malou spend a romantic evening wandering through a (beautifully shot) junkyard, led there by a young boy, son of Lécuyer, who keeps a secret room in which he takes care of a stray cat. In a third plotline, a pair of young lovers pop in and out of the narrative; the boy has been coming to the train station gate every day just to catch a glimpse of her as she passes on the street. On this day, they finally make contact. Finally, the fantasy element is a scraggly looking fellow who calls himself Fate. At the beginning of the movie, he tells Diego he will meet the most beautiful woman in the world—and in Diego's eyes, he does—he helps get the two young lovers to finally speak to each other, and he also foretells the death of a gypsy woman by drowning, and assures another character that he won't drown, though he might like a dog.

This is a lovely film, if not exactly an uplifting one. Fate, a beggar, can tell people what will happen but he cannot change the future. Jean Vilar, as Fate, has a nicely sad look without looking either depressing or sinister. There are good guys and bad guys, but even the bad guys aren't without some sense of regret about the paths they took. The movie takes place in one day, mostly at night, hence the shadowy noir look. Montand is excellent, as is Reggiani (pictured at left with Vilar). 9-year-old Christian Simon does a nice job as the boy. Nattier (pictured at top with Montand), considering her importance to the plot, doesn't have much to do except look beautiful and a little mysterious. The 50s pop standard "Autumn Leaves" originated with this movie; it's a tune that Destiny hums from time to time, and that seems hauntingly familiar to both Diego and Malou. For lovers of Carné's epic CHILDREN OF PARADISE, this may seem slight, but it's lovely and, like "Autumn Leaves," a little haunting. [Criterion streaming]

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