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Friday, April 30, 2010

SOUS LES TOITS DE PARIS / UNDER THE ROOFS OF PARIS (1930)

In his first sound film, writer/helmer René Clair turned the limitations of early-Talkie technology to his artistic advantage. It’s one of a handful of Part-Talkies that feel perfectly realized in this bastardized format. From the magnificent opening crane shot that glides across the eponymous roofs and continues down to the backstreets of Paris, Clair welds the romantic inevitability of his modest story with a fluid technique that was miles ahead of what others were settling for. (You’ve got to go back to Murnau flying over the cityscape in FAUST/’26 or forward to Disney’s extravagant use of multi-plane animation in PINOCCHIO/’40 to find its equal.) We’ve hardly hit pavement when we’re plunged into our tale of a song barker, the foreign girl he’s mad about and the pickpocket whose actions will both complicate and reveal the course of true love. Albert Prejean (Mackie in the French version of THE 3-PENNY OPERA/’31) doesn’t have the manly charisma that Jean Gabin soon brought to these parts, but everyone else is just about perfect. Edmond Greville, who switched to directing after this single acting gig, is particularly good as the best pal who shares everything with Prejean. But there are memorable crooks & cops, barkeeps, call girls & the slumming rich; an entire Parisian underworld that would nicely serve the dramatic needs of French ‘poetic realism’ for decades. Fabulous support from lenser George Périnal & art designer Lazare Meerson, make Clair’s melancholy charm, character empathy & sense of fun bloom with delight.

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