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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Poil de Carotte (Julien Duvivier, 1932)

Poil de Carotte -- which means "carrot top" -- is a curious amalgam of fairytale themes and psychological realism. The film evokes fairytales with its story of a neglected and exploited child who has a kindly godparent, set in a picturesque French village that, except for the absence of a castle with a prince in it, could have doubled for the setting of Cinderella. We first meet the film's Cinderella analog, François Lepic (Robert Lynen), known universally as "Poil de carotte," as he is about to leave school for a vacation back home. He doesn't really want to go: When we first see him, he is being criticized by a teacher for having written in an essay, "A family is a group of people forced to live together under one roof who can't stand one another." We soon find out how he comes by this cynical definition when he arrives home to his vaguely neglectful father (Harry Baur), his icy, controlling mother (Catherine Fonteney), and his spoiled older siblings, Ernestine (Simone Aubry) and Félix (Maxime Fromiot). His status in the family becomes apparent at the dinner table, where he sits licking his lips in anticipation of the dish of melon slices being passed around, only to have his mother say he doesn't want any, apparently because she doesn't like melons. After dinner, he is sent to take the melon rinds -- he gnaws on them once he's outside -- to the rabbits and to shut the gate to the chicken yard. He protests: It's dark outside and he's scared. But his sister and brother refuse the task because they're both reading, and he's sent out into the night, which he imagines to be full of ghosts dancing in a ring. His only escape from the chores, his mother's harshness, and his father's indifference is to visit his godfather (Louis Gauthier), a cheerful idler, where he wades in the brook and has a mock wedding with a little neighbor girl, Mathilde (Colette Segall), presided over by the godfather playing a tune on his hurdy-gurdy. It's a lovely little pastoral idyll that ends all too soon. As he returns home, Poil de Carotte realizes how lonely and unloved he is, and he begins to contemplate suicide. This abrupt reversal of mood comes from an 1894 novella by Jules Renard that writer-director Julien Duvivier first adapted for a silent movie version in 1926. It's a little too abrupt for a work of psychological truth: Poil de Carotte has been seen as resilient and resourceful up to this point, and his deep depression comes upon him all too suddenly. When he finally achieves a connection with his father, in a scene that despite the dramatic flaws of the film is quite touching, it's explained to us that Poil de Carotte was conceived by accident, long after the husband and wife had ceased to love each other. He therefore became an object of resentment by both parents. At the end, the father vows that everyone will call him François, not Poil de Carotte, henceforth. The performances by Lynen and Baur make this second reversal plausible, if not entirely convincing. Duvivier's direction is more solid than his screenplay, and the film is at its best in the scenes of village life, beautifully shot by Armand Thirard.    

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