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Friday, July 3, 2009

POIL DE CAROTTE / CARROT TOP (1925)

Julien Duvivier remade this silent pic of the famous Jules Renard novel as an early sound film in 1932 (not seen here), but this version, in an excellent DVD edition from Lobster, is hard to beat. Carrot Top is the unloved, unwanted runt in a wildly dysfunctional French country family. Mom is a particular horror, but the eldest son, older sister & distant father aren’t far behind. The atmosphere is like something out of Cinderella, but this is no fairy tale as the remarkable location filming emphasizes. Hard work & constant rejection (at home, at school, even by the mom of the sweet little neighbor he dreams of marrying) take a heavy toll on the boy’s spirit. It’s not long before thoughts of ‘a barn, a beam & a rope’ overtake his mind. Grim doings. Yet somehow, Duvivier finds tremendous life & even shards of comedy in the daily grind. He certainly goes all out showing his wonderfully snazzy silent film technique. Lots of ideas from the likes of D W Griffith & Abel Gance are on proud display here, and Duvivier & his cameraman get some nifty split-screen effects simply by rapidly swinging a hinged mirror in front of the camera. The acting is rather broad & crude for 1925, but the archetypes all come roaring to life. Carrot Top is AndrĂ© HeuzĂ© in his one & only credit and you can all but hear Duvivier telling him just what to do. He’s dutiful, and he certainly looks the part! Now, we need the 1932 version on a restored DVD edition. (1/19/16 - And now we've got it in a 4-pac set: JULIEN DUVIVIER IN THE THIRTIES, look for it on Criterion.)

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