A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hôtel du Nord (Marcel Carné, 1938)

I had seen Arletty in a movie only once before, as the fascinating, enigmatic Garance in Marcel Carné's great Children of Paradise (1945), so I was completely unprepared for her performance as the raucous streetwalker Raymonde in Hôtel du Nord. Raymonde shares a room in the hotel with Edmond (Louis Jouvet), a photographer who is hiding out from his old cronies in the Parisian underworld. The film begins with a traveling shot along the canal that flanks the hotel, where we first see a young pair of lovers, Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and Renée (Annabella), walking arm in arm. Inside the hotel, the residents are celebrating the first communion of the daughter of Maltaverne (René Bergeron), a policeman who lives at the hotel. (It's a diverse household.) Pierre and Renée enter and request a room for the night, but instead of making love, they have decided on a suicide pact: He will shoot her, then kill himself. He holds up the first part of the bargain, but then chickens out. Edmond, who has been in his darkroom, hears the shot and breaks down the door, finding Renée apparently dead and Pierre cowering indecisively. Taking the gun from Pierre, Edmond urges him to flee. (The gun becomes a Chekhov's gun when Edmond first tosses it away and then recovers it and stashes it in a drawer.) Renée recovers from the gunshot, and Pierre, torn with guilt, turns himself into the police as an attempted murderer and is sent to prison. After she recuperates, Renée returns to the hotel to collect her things, and is offered a job there by Madame Lecouvreur (Jane Marken), the wife of the proprietor (André Brunot). And so the story of the suicidal lovers begins to intertwine with that of Edmond and Raymonde. It's all neatly done, with a great deal of atmosphere (a word that Raymonde will give a particular spin to), much of it created by Alexandre Trauner's set, a re-creation of the actual hotel and the Canal St. Martin in the studios at Billancourt. The film's melodrama is alleviated by the ensemble work and the performances of Jouvet, who can switch from menacing to vulnerable in an instant, and Arletty, who makes the tough, worldly wise Raymonde often very funny. The film concludes with Carné's skillful staging of an elaborate Bastille Day sequence that anticipates the crowd scenes in Children of Paradise.

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