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Jean Grémillon During the Occupation: Eclipse Series 34 DVD Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Pretty much unknown to American movie audiences, director Jean Grémillon had a prolific career in France that spanned three decades from the silent era through the years of the Second World War. The three films contained in this latest Eclipse box set focus on movies made during the German occupation of France. Two of them fall into the genre of romantic melodramas with emotions pitched high and coincidences and climaxes occurring within the blink of an eye. The third, and best in the set, is a nonfiction account of one of France’s pioneering aviatrixes.




Jean Grémillon During the Occupation: Eclipse Series 34
Remorques/Lumière d’été/Le ciel est à vous

Directed by Jean Grémillon

Studio: Criterion/Eclipse
Year: 1941-1944
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1  
Running Time: 84/110/107 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
Subtitles:  English

MSRP: $44.95


 


Release Date: July 24, 2012

Review Date: July 19, 2012




The Films


Remorques – 2.5/5


Tugboat captain André Laurent (Jean Gabin) has the admiration of his crew and the love of his longsuffering wife Yvonne (Madeleine Renaud) who must often endure long months of separation when her husband is off at sea on a rescue mission. On a trip to rescue the floundering ship Mirva, he meets Catherine (Michèle Morgan), the miserably unhappy wife of that ship’s captain (Jean Marchat). Leaving her husband, Catherine makes a play for André who succumbs to her charms since his own wife complains constantly about his long months at sea and about her own delicate health. But what none of them know is that Yvonne is actually desperately ill with a bleak prognosis.


The screenplay by Jacques Prévert based on a French novel by Roger Vercel is actually no better or worse than the “women’s pictures” being turned out in America at the time by Joan Crawford, Greer Garson, or Kay Francis (one could almost imagine the movie with Charles Boyer as the captain, Joan Crawford as the vamp, and Greer Garson as the wronged wife). The movie’s small budget is certainly evident by the poor use of miniatures to represent the ships at sea caught in a blinding storm (footage of which gets replayed almost in a loop), but the drama itself is rather threadbare (meanwhile, one of the captain’s men loses two fingers during the tumult and no one barely thinks twice about it) with emotions which change on a whim (André tells Charlotte he’s not interested one second and is madly kissing her the next) and the melodrama cranked up quite a bit as the film nears its conclusion. Jean Gabin does his usual professional job with the lackluster material he’s given (he’s much more at ease displaying real camaraderie with his crew), and Madeleine Renaud makes the most of her impossible-to-play character. Michèle Morgan doesn’t quite go full out as the vamp, trying to maintain a little audience sympathy even though she’s clearly out to steal another man’s husband and feels no remorse about it.


Lumière d’été – 3/5


While waiting in a mountaintop hotel for her lover Roland (Pierre Brasseur) who’s just designed the sets and costumes for a new ballet in Paris, Michèle (Madeleine Robinson) meets and enchants two very different men: the wealthy and influential Patrice (Paul Bernard) and construction worker Julien (Georges Marchal). Roland arrives two days late and drunk, his ballet a hideous failure and he almost suicidal in his desolation. In order to keep Michèle around, Patrice offers Roland a job redecorating his expansive mansion, but Patrice’s longtime lover Cri-Cri (Madeleine Renaud) isn’t happy to see him losing interest in her while attempting to seduce Michèle. Julien is also rather disgusted with the idle rich that Michèle has suddenly taken up with.


With a love quadrangle at work while a jealous woman stands on the outside looking helplessly in, Lumière d’été, sometimes called Grémillon’s best film, is filled with intense emotions and ends in a series of climaxes which have to be seen to be believed. The production design is quite sumptuous with its glass hotel and expansive villa, amazing that such a film would be given the green light in war-torn France of the time. The director mounts a lavish masquerade ball in the film’s last third that is reminiscent of Vincente Minnelli’s various and infamous cinematic festivities, and the contrast of upper class elites and lower class workers is touched on but not really developed with great sophistication. The film is very much a part of its time with both of the film’s women, although having success as businesswomen, expressing their utter need for a man who completely loves them to feel any sense of worth in themselves.


Le ciel est à vous – 4/5


Mechanic Pierre Gauthier (Charles Vanel) can fix or tune just about any engine there is, be it auto or airplane. When famed aviatrix Lucienne Ivry (Anne Vandène) has him tune the engine of her airplane, it reignites in Gauthier his own love of flying developed during World War I. Pierre’s wife Thérèse (Madeleine Renaud) at first resents the time her husband is spending at the airfield, but once she takes her first trip aloft, she’s hooked and becomes an even more voracious pilot than her husband. Thérèse wins lots of prizes for her stunt flying, but what she longs to do is break the world distance record flown by a woman. She and Pierre hock just about everything they own (much to the dismay of Thérèse’s mother – Raymonde Vernay) in order to soup up the plane so she can make the journey, but a nagging feeling about the dangers of such an attempt keep the couple on the ground at least temporarily.


It’s easy to see why this film was director Grémillon’s most financially successful one: it’s got intense family values (though a mother realizing her dreams at the expense of her daughter’s seems a bit selfish seen in modern terms), some exciting aerial footage (though all shot at ground level), and a thrilling climax, especially for those who don’t know the actual outcome of the heroine’s attempt to break the world record. Unlike the earlier two movies, the leading man and woman of this film have equal weight here; each is an interesting and fully rounded person, and one greatly sympathizes with Pierre when he assumes all is lost and that his beloved town is up in arms over his foolhardiness. The two leading performances are superb, and despite Charles Vanel’s not having movie star looks, the love between him and Madeleine Renaud’s Thérèse seems genuine and real.



Video Quality


Remorques – 3/5


All of the films are framed at their theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The first half of the film looks remarkably good with sharpness nicely captured and a fairly good grayscale (the film does appear often to be a shade too dark, and shadow detail is sometimes obscured). Later, though, scratches become more rampant, and there is obvious age-related damage to the print used for the transfer. Subtitles printed in white are easy to read. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.


Lumière d’été – 3.5/5


The transfer shows that the film is in much better condition than its predecessor with almost no age-related damage to speak of. Sharpness isn’t always spot-on; the first half of the film looks sharper than the latter half, but grayscale is pleasing throughout even with the less than sterling black levels the film possesses. As always, the white subtitles are easy to read, and the film has been divided into 15 chapters.


Le ciel est à vous – 3/5


Sharpness again varies throughout the movie. Some scenes are quite clear and detailed while others are soft and lack clarity. Blacks again are medium gray rather than black, but the image boasts decent contrast throughout. There are scratches here, not quite as severe as in Remorques but certainly more prominent than in Lumière d’été. Subtitles in white are perfectly clear, and the film has been divided into 20 chapters.



Audio Quality


All films – 3/5


The Dolby Digital 1.0 sound mixes in the films are all typical of their era with weak fidelity (thin highs and almost no bass). There is some hiss to be heard on occasion in Remorque, sometimes louder than at other times, but it’s not a major problem in any of the films. In Lumière d’été, the music occasionally drowns out the dialogue, but that doesn’t happen often (and the subtitles are a big help to non-French speakers). In Le ciel est à vous, volume levels in the music sometimes cause a bit of distortion.




Special Features

1/5


The Eclipse series does not feature bonus material, but each of the films in its own slimline case features interesting liner notes by Michael Koresky.



In Conclusion

3/5 (not an average)


The three films in Eclipse’s latest box Jean Grémillon During the Occupation  won’t be for all tastes (though the third one is fine enough to entertain anyone interested in good filmmaking), but as an introduction to this French director’s most famous output during World War II, the movies are certainly welcome discoveries despite their flaws.




Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC

 

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