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Thursday, September 26, 2013

LUMIERE D'ETE (1943)

Working with a handful of top directors in France, scripter Jacques Prévert all but invented the ‘30s style of French romantic fatalism known as Poetic Realism. This film, made during the German Occupation, pushes the concept even farther, call it Poetic Melodrama. It’s one of those pressure-cooker set ups where a handful of friends, lovers & ‘exes’ are stuck in a confined space, here an isolated high-altitude glass hotel where you’d expect to find a recovering TB case or two. Not so here, everyone’s almost too healthy, variously panting for the wrong partner while all around them, the mountains literally erupt with dynamite. It proves too much for director Jean Gremillon to handle. A cult figure in France, his best known work was done during the Occupation, but he comes across as more film theorist than natural filmmaker, never getting much of a rhythm going. Rather than capitulate to the excess of passion, we never get past all the illogical, self-destructive behavior, noting how ridiculously everyone has to behave just to keep the plot moving. The two young lovers, Madeleine Robinson & Georges Marchal (wildly handsome @ 23), come off best; everyone else overacts like mad. None more so than Pierre Brasseur. Best known Stateside as the Shakespearean actor in Prévert’s LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS/’45, Gremillon lets him get away with an alarmingly hammy perf as an artist manqué, cured & pickled beyond salvage. It makes our young ingenue look faintly idiotic for ever falling for him. Shot by shot, the film looks swell (fabulous Art Direction by Léon Barsacq), but the pieces never come together. After a while, you start looking for some allegorical explanation. After all, the film did get censored by the Nazi authorities. But none of the three or four endings in the film offer much of a clue. Surely, there’s more to Gremillon and his reputation than this.

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